The Coffee House Dinner

by Shannon Rule Bardwell


“One does not truly live his experiences until he transmits them through the point of a pen.”   John Burroughs    (1837-1921)


 From the outside, the Coffee House was plain and did not hold the promise of anything spectacular. Like most prejudgments, the outside was deceiving.


Inside as the writers and friends gathered for the literary awards dinner, I was awed and amused by the eccentricities of the décor as well as the writers. A writer cum bead artist adorned her head with a crown of beads as she greeted those entering the writer’s sanctum. Then and there I knew the evening held promise of wonder and merriment. Writers gathered and grinned as if they held the secrets of life. They do.


Our table was honored by the presence of a young poet who was as lovely and as tall and as talented as any WNBA star. She possessed the fresh innocence of youth and yet a calm, self assured quality that belied her thirteen years. That evening she would be named the 2004 Young Writers Poet.


Early on my traveling companion, Judith, also a writer, found herself scooped in the arms of a photo-journalist that squealed “Judy Toosie”. Judith’s feet dangled and her eyes were like saucers until she realized the scooper was a college friend from more than thirty years prior. Do all writers eventually converge in the same place, I wondered?


A few years ago through happen chance I began to critique by mail with a writer that I hoped would be present. The “snail mailer,” I called him. Though we had never met, we had shared the secrets of our hearts…our writings.


“You don’t help me as much as I help you,” he once wrote. “You’re not hard enough.”


“I will try to be harder,” I wrote back.


I perused the room anxiously reading name tags hoping to identify the snail mailer. The program began. I was disappointed until the speaker announced a gentleman’s late arrival. The snail mailer rushed in looking like a harried William Faulkner or Colonel Sanders.


At first opportunity I made my way to his table and announced, “I think it’s time we meet.”


His table companions stared as a stunned William Faulkner searched my face and found not a hint of recognition. His eyes fell to my name tag and he hooped and scooped me into his arms. It was an evening of hooping and scooping.


Instantly, he abandoned his table companions and joined mine, Judy “Toosie”, the young poet, a proud mother and others.


The awards were presented and along with other writers and poets I was honored and humbled that my work would be recognized among my peers. The accolades were nice.


Later Judith would say, “It’s not like you to not speak when you received your award.”


“I know. I couldn’t. I was overwhelmed at the whole evening,” I replied. “All my senses were on overload, the room, the people, the poetry reading, the acceptance comments, the young poet, the books, the beads, William Faulkner…”


The next day Judith and I meandered to the Walter Anderson museum in Ocean Springs. As we watched the 28 minute documentary on Anderson’s life I thought how similar our crafts are: Walter Anderson sketching alone on Horn Island; the writer writing alone in a writer’s alcove.


As lovely and rewarding as solitude is, we eventually must come to the mainland and celebrate that which was born in the writer’s alcove. The Coffee house dinner did just that. It was an entire evening celebrating writers and that which was born at the point of a writer’s pen.



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