Letter from New Orleans

Text: Maurice Ruffin

Illustration: Hedy Tjin

Maurice Carlos Ruffin is the author of We Cast a Shadow (2019), his ‘incisive and necessary’ (Roxane Gay) debut novel. This satirical work of fiction about the future of racism in the American South is a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award. A native of New Orleans, Ruffin is a graduate of the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop and a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance. He is a professor of creative writing at Louisiana State University. He was one of the curators of Read My World 2017.

Hedy Tjin is a freelance illustration designer, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She graduated from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht in 2009.

Letter to the World from a New Orleans Writer,

I have never met you, but I love you. We have met many times before, but I still do not know you. I long to meet you. I am meeting you now. I am a writer and have spent these recent years traveling the world. I have seen you in your native land. Spoken to you in your native tongue. To be in a room with hundreds of others and enjoy the experience of communion is not something all writers love, but I have loved it deeply. Writing is solitary. I write to the unknowable. I write to a blank page that can never be filled.

To write is to enter a dark space and find that you are not alone.

Toni Morrison spoke about an exhibition. She entered a darkened room. One wall was made of glass. She approached the wall and placed her hand upon the glass. A hand appeared on the other side to match hers. She said this was what she sought most in life. This describes the act of writing. I write 1,000 words. I write 10,000 words. I write 100,000 words. Each word I write is in pursuit of that hand to hand discovery. To write is to enter a dark space and find that you are not alone.

Large gatherings may be a relic, like bones beneath a church, at least for the time being. No literary festivals, conferences, or workshops. No flights, road trips, or cross-town hikes to the next book event. No huddling together in a hotel lobby, pub, or community center. Perhaps one day, we will have a cure or vaccine for COVID-19. Perhaps one day, everything will be as it was in 2018. But we have seen in other historic world changes—the Great Depression, WWII, the Great Recession—that we are often too changed to see ourselves again.

Large gatherings may be a relic, like bones beneath a church, at least for the time being.

However, there are some things that transcend every space and every time in which we have lived. Since pre-history, we have passed tales from one to another by word of mouth, by page, or digital file. Shakespeare wrote several of his works in quarantine. We know of Boccaccio. An apple may not have fallen on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, but the seeds of his gravitational theories germinated while in isolation.  And regardless of who we are or what we call ourselves, our internal monologues persist. The story of the eternal self continues.

I write this is in my home. The mild buzz of a lawnmower can be heard. Golden light streams and illuminates by bedroom. A jet plane drones high above. The tiny, rhythmic whoosh of my laptop’s invisible fan keeps time. This morning, I ate scrambled eggs with Cajun sausage and wheat toast with jelly. A box of donuts—some pink as a tulip and covered in sprinkles—awaits in my kitchen. Which is to say, I still luxuriate in the things I love. A good meal, a midday sweet, and the promise of words.

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you are doing that you are well. More centrally, I hope that whoever you are you feel loved. There are no promises for tomorrow except for the promises we hold on behalf of others. The promise that your hand will find mine.

All the best,

Maurice Carlos Ruffin

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