By, Avery G. ’21
Blair Hurley, Winsor Class of 2005, came to Upper School Meeting for a Q&A led by Book Club and Creative Writing on Thursday, September 27th. She is an accomplished writer of short stories and won the 2018 Pushcart Prize. She recently released her first novel, entitled The Devoted, on August 7, 2018. The Devoted is about a woman who was raised Irish Catholic and converted to Buddhism as an adult. However, she develops a treacherous relationship with her Buddhist mentor, from whom she can’t seem to separate from. It was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review: reviewer Sharma Shields wrote, “The beauty of The Devoted lies in its intricate descriptions of religion’s hush and ritual… Ultimately this is a novel as tender and fervent as a prayer.”
Ms. Hurley touched on her fond memories of Winsor. She remembered writing for the Winsor Lamp and her senior homeroom theme of Pop Art. She also remarked on the strong writing skills Winsor gave her. In fact her editor said that her manuscript was one of the most grammatically sound she’d ever seen. Ms. S., the director of Winsor’s Virginia Wing Library, remarked, “At one point in [Ms. Hurley’s] junior or senior year, she heard from a teacher in the Midwest whose student had handed in a creative writing assignment that did not sound like the student. The teacher googled it, and found Blair’s web page where she’d posted her stories! Imagine already being plagiarized when you’re still in high school!”
In addition to discussing her favorite Winsor books, she also shared her current favorites. The first author she recommended is a short story writer named Alice Munro. Ms. Hurley described her style as being “sort of quiet on the surface, but actually the more you read, you see that [Munro] is devastating and cutting and cruel underneath it. It’s really satisfying to read and reread her work.” Ms. Hurley also recommended Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, which recently was shortlisted for the National Book Award Fiction Prize. Machado is “very experimental and dark and interesting! I really like the experiments being done with contemporary writing these days,” said Ms. Hurley.
Ms. Hurley lastly touched on rejection in the writing and publication process. In her words, rejection “is part of the writing life.” For all aspiring writers at Winsor, this sounds like bad news. Many of us, myself included, dread hearing rejection especially involved with our writing. After pouring so much of ourselves into our work, it is heartbreaking to be turned down.
Luckily for us, Ms. Hurley framed rejection in a new way. First, Ms. Hurley reminded us that even though she is an accomplished writer, “there’s a long list of so many places [she] was rejected from over the years and continue[s] to be rejected from. That’s part of the process.” She even went on to say, “Even the writers that you love, who you adore, they were rejected too.” As a reminder, even the best of the best — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Judy Blume, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling — received their fair share of rejection. So if everyone gets rejected, then what does a rejection really mean? In Ms. Hurley’s opinion, a rejection is simply means “someone went out there and read my work.”
Ms. Hurley also mentioned that the writing industry is a lot about luck. Because magazines get many submissions, she believes, that “when [your] story shows up on the desk of the editor, it may just be they are not reading closely that day. Or they are in a bad mood that day. Or they are just not quite the right editor… It doesn’t mean its a bad piece.” We’re so lucky that Ms. Hurley came back to Winsor to share some advice and we hope she visits again soon!