On May 10, I return home to Cambridge, Massachusetts, for my high school reunion. My four closest girlfriends from that time will also come in from across the country: from Tucson, Chicago, New York, and one who stayed in Cambridge. And me, I’ll travel from Richmond, Virginia, where I’ve lived for more than a decade. For years we’ve kept up with each other’s lives through conference calls, group emails, and the rare gathering at a beach house or in one city or another for non-stop talk marathons. This time we’re combining our small group reunion with the full school affair. Now, at this point in our lives, we see that life has had its ups and downs for each of us in our own way, and any false hope still alive at earlier reunions of being spared difficulty is gone with the years. Instead, we can now fully relish our shared past and honor the kids we were by having some drinks, laughing a lot, and maybe even dancing. I feel especially excited this year because I return home having accomplished what I hoped for most as a high school girl: the publication of my debut novel, River of Dust, which comes out the very same week as the reunion. The timing invites more than a little self-reflection and thankfulness. It was with these girlfriends that I first shared my bookish self. When we wandered around Harvard Square looking for boys and good finds at used clothing stores, I carried Anne Sexton’s poems in the back pocket of my jeans. I quoted Denise Levertov and Sylvia Plath to anyone who’d listen. To their credit, my friends didn’t tease me, but instead seemed to know before I did what my life’s goal would be. I am moved that they’ll be with me at my first bookstore reading of River of Dust to be held at Back Pages Books in Waltham, just down the street from our high school.
The Harvard Square of our childhoods was dotted with new and used bookstores. I remember wandering into them with a sense of great anticipation, and then easily losing myself in the aisles. There is still nothing as satisfying as picking up an unfamiliar book and leafing through its pages, becoming acquainted with new authors by serendipitously plucking them from the shelves. I remember wiling away hours in the Harvard Book Store, something that luckily one can still do today as that store continues to be a home to both writers and readers. Just a few years ago Back Pages Books owner, Alex Green, opened his store in the likeness of City Lights Books in San Francisco, where the Beat poets first congregated. He’s given a great gift to the City of Waltham by envisioning an independent bookstore as a community center, a place to inspire the next generation of high school kids looking for books they didn’t even know they wanted to read, let alone to write. I’m honored to hold the first reading of my novel there, and deeply satisfied to be accompanied by my supportive long-time friends and classmates as I read aloud my own words, adding my voice to the many voices of that literary corner of the literary state of Massachusetts.