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Rediscovering myself through the Wilkes Creative Writing Program


by Gale Martin MA'10

I don’t remember much from my baccalaureate days at Dear Old State in the 1980s, other than crushing on a clean-shaven preppy in a transformational grammar class who turned out to be a pit viper.

Somehow, amidst all the "sentence diagramming cramming sessions" and the eventual heartbreak following being dumped by said pit viper, enough cognizance remained to absorb Erik Erikson’s stages of development from Dr. Scraggly-Beard’s Educational Psychology class. They wormed their way into my impressionable undergraduate psyche like nightcrawlers into a compost pit. Twelve stages from infancy to death, if you have forgotten them or never learned them. 

Now that I am a 50-something, I find these stages are as striking and relevant as ever. Though I didn’t set a life course to advance to Generativity vs. Stagnation (for ages 35-65) that people encounter in midlife, I did indeed devolve into an intense middle-aged soul search, just as Erikson predicted.

I had been a devoted mom for 18 years. I’d put the interests of my family and my child first. And I had many interests and several talents I considered myself proficient in, earlier in my life. Now that my daughter really didn’t need me anymore, what was my value in the world? Did I have anything left to offer anyone? What was I going to attempt to be good at now?

In 2005, I learned that the niece of a close friend from high school wrote a novel that became world famous and was made into a ultra-popular major motion picture. Since little on up, I’d read loads of fiction but never thought I could write fiction, despite the fact that I was a first-class prevaricator.

I began writing fiction—my first novel, in fact—the end result of which was about as successful as someone playing violin in public who’d never taken a lesson. But I kept at it, and within five years, I had gotten as far as my self-instruction would take me.  I went to an information session for the Wilkes University MA/MFA Creative Writing Program and wound up reinventing myself in the succeeding years.


A book signing at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg

The Wilkes program got more taxing with each semester, and it started out plenty challenging, believe me, with those killer foundational classes. Writing an essay morphed into writing a thesis. Reading a piece of work out loud progressed to interpreting your own piece in Kirby Theatre to the entire Wilkes writing community. Writing a pitch for your book advanced to presenting a pitch to the screenwriting faculty to doing a polished pitch for a panel of agents and editors.

The progressively responsible challenges in the Wilkes program felled some of my colleagues. Couldn’t take the pressure of increased stakes or the deadline to complete a manuscript in one academic year. But not me. The program made me stronger, more confident, and more committed to literary success.

An instore display at the Wise Owl Book Store, West Reading, PAI published three novels since graduating from the Wilkes program and have four other fictional works in progress. I’ve obtained hundreds of reviews—laudatory and blistering— and done dozens of author events.

Presenting at the Reading Public Library on a fiction panel with fictionistas Chris Hinz and Mary Beth MatteoI no longer ask myself what I'm attempting to be good at as I age. I’m a writer. A decent one, whose books have been read by thousands and treasured by hundreds. Simply put, I wouldn’t be where I am without the Wilkes University Creative Writing program.

Wilkes helped this middle-aged mom rediscover what she had to offer the world. No doubt the Wilkes' afterglow will carry me through to Erikson's final stage of human development—old age—with gusto and, perhaps, a surprising amount of dignity.

* * *

A special shout-out and hearty congratulations to the wonderful Wilkes Faculty, all of whom helped me become the writer I am today in his or her own unique way. Heartfelt thanks also to my talented and generous cohort-- MA Class of 2010!


P.S. I'll be reading in the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center theatre on the Wilkes University Campus on Tuesday evening, June 23, along with these talented Wilkes alums: Lori Meyers, James Craig, Amye Archer, Ginger Marcinkowski, John Koloski, Laurie Lowenstein, Salena Vertalono-Fehnel, and Sandee Gertz



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Reader Comments (3)

Your time at Wilkes was quite a ride, Gail! Be proud of your accomplishments and of what you learned. You do Wilkes proud!

June 9, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGinger Marcinkowski

Great post. Congratulations on your reinvention and the courses 10 year anniversary.

Well done to both of you

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCT Mitchell

So eloquently written and so true. It seems like a wonderful experience. I have a soft spot in my heart for Wilkes University as I am a native of The Wyoming Valley.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterkim malm

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