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Mentorship has an interesting history. It dates back to Homer’s Odyssey when Athena came to Ithaca in the guise of Telemachus’ tutor and aided him on his quest to reunite with his father and take back his home. History and legend record the deeds of princes and kings, but each of us has a birthright to actualize our potential. Mentors help us to move toward that actualization.

Think of someone in your life who has been a trusted advisor, teacher, friend and wise person. Someone in your past that has invested their time, energy and personal know-how in assisting in your growth and personal ability. I believe these sages continue to pop in and out of our lives and constantly take on new forms. Our goal should be to recognize them and let them teach us.

Literature has a long tradition of mentorship. From Sherman Anderson with William Faulkner to Ezra Pound with T.S. Elliot mentorship in literature is at the heart of many legendary scribes. To read a great article about this go to 10 Famous Literary Mentorships.

Someone in your past that has invested their time, energy and personal know-how in assisting in your growth and personal ability. I believe these sages continue to pop in and out of our lives and constantly take on new forms.

I myself have had the privilege of calling several renowned authors, mentors. Among them, Kathi Appelt and Martine Leavitt who oversaw the development of my first two young adult novels during grad school. I was encouraged but also held to a higher standard and that, I believe has made me the writer I am today. But mentorship goes beyond the classroom and these are to be articles about musings from South Beach so let me get to it.

Matt de la PenaThis month, The Betsy Writer’s Room “Writers for Young Readers” program welcomed critically acclaimed author, Matt de la Peña to Miami. This project was done in partnership with Miami Dade Public Library and Florida International University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Wonderful things happen when great partners work together for the good of the community and this was a direct result of that.

This program was especially transformative for me because I was able to see Matt work with adults wanting to write for children and young adults through the Miami Beach Library and also see how he worked in the collegiate classroom with students who had yet to know his work. He brought a whole new level of understanding of young adult literature to the college classroom and I couldn’t help to feel that I too was learning from his lesson.

When I first met Matt I was just starting grad school and he gave a reading on his soon to be published novel, The Living. I heard the story of a Latino boy working on a cruise ship who sees as a man plummet to his death at the very start of the novel. The intrigue of the story was excellent but something else struck me about Matt’s reading. It was his main character. A Latino young adult that didn’t fit into a stereotype. He was part of the story. A character that belonged in the narrative and wasn’t used simply as a token in the story. His main character belonged in the novel and I found it thrilling to think I could write from a voice like that without feeling I was being inauthentic. Hanging out with Matt taught me a great deal and I’m confident to say he’s become a kind of mentor. One who takes the small amount of time he has to pay his knowledge forward. But as I said, mentors or influencers can take on many forms. Which leads me to the poetry of Hyam Plutzik.

Hyam Plutzik, in case you don’t know is the literary muse of The Betsy Hotel and The Writer’s Room. He is the late father of Betsy owner Jonathan Plutzik and his sister Deborah Plutzik Briggs who I know and am privileged to work with. I hadn’t known HP’s poetry before meeting Deborah and Jonathan but I have read Apples from Shinar and several of his other poems—including his seminal work, Horatio which I saw performed in B Bar here in Miami Beach last January by the wonderful Nigel Maister.

Mentors and influences aren’t necessarily the same thing but the sentiment remains. We take from the wiser to aid us in our own actualization.

I say this because in a distant way, HP has had an incredible influence on my own work as well. His poem, “She fell in love with the evening star,” helped inspire a new version of my main character from my middle grade novel. This influence assisted the growth of my own ability—albeit in a cosmic distant way, but still, the influence was there. Okay maybe I’m stretching a bit. Mentors and influences aren’t necessarily the same thing but the sentiment remains. We take from the wiser to aid us in our own actualization.  HP’s poetry has affected my own writing so that has to count for something, right?

This month I also met writer in residence Renee Ashley. Renee is an accomplished poet and teacher and it was wonderful to see how she experienced our fair shores.

“The landscape of Miami Beach seems surreal to me. The landmass itself is flat; the ocean lies calmly, right now, in its low bed and is the color of ancient Roman glass. Palm trees appear to make up the bulk of vegetation, but there are many types, none of which I am able to name, and a quick Google search tells me there are only twelve native species and the rest have been brought here from all over the world. Palms fare well in strong winds and floods, it says. Sounds right. There is a sense of continuum here. The horizon is so long and so very sharp that I begin to understand how people once thought you could sail over the edge of the world. The Atlantic itself, in Miami Beach, is an infinity pool.”

To check out more of Renee Ashley click (http://reneeashley.com/). She’s an incredible poet.

This month I also met with Benjamin Alire Saenz through the University of Miami and I have to say, being with him and Matt over dinner at Green Street in Coconut Grove was amazing. It was incredible seeing two respected authors at different points in their careers and me, an emerging one listening to their stories of success and failure. Just amazing.

Pablo at the Betsy

From Left to Right: Matt de la Peña, Benjamin Alire Saenz, and Pablo Cartaya at The Betsy.

To gain more knowledge of our craft. To become better people. To learn how to do things better, we seek out the knowledge of those who have done it before us and try to find our own voice through them. It’s a constant thing until the moment comes when you yourself become Athena and mentor another.

Coming up: Stay tuned for next month when I recount experiences with the Orgullo Latin LGBT Arts and Literature Festival on South Beach as well as Holocaust survivor, scholar and soldier poet Guy Stern coming to The Writer’s Room as part of the “From Jim Crow to Swastika” exhibit in co-partnership with FIU and Coral Gables Museum. And we’ll honor the first Hyam Plutzik Trinity College award recipient, Julia Rubano who is a senior at Trinity and an emerging poet.

Speaking of Hyam Plutzik, here’s the poem that influenced my main character.

She fell in love with the evening star

By Hyam Plutzik

She fell in love with the evening star–

Did a pretty periwinkle.

“Come down, come down, wherever you are.”

But he answered with a twinkle:

“Ah no! ah no!”

 

She fell in love with the midnight star —

Did a pretty periwinkle.

“Come down, come down, wherever you are.”

But he answered with a twinkle:

“Ah no! ah no!”

 

She fell in love with the morning star–

Did a pretty periwinkle.

“Come down, come down, wherever you are.”

But he answered with a twinkle:

“Ah no! ah no!”

 

She died, she died —

And to her side

There came three strangers mourning:

The star of the evening,

The midnight star,

And the great star of the dawning.

You can read more Hyam Plutzik poetry here.

Last Month’s Quote Quiz: Who said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”?

The closest was Geoffrey Fox who said Samuel Johnson. They were contemporaries so he gets partial credit. The correct answer was Jonathan Swift. I’m still giving Geoffrey a shout out for the effort. Geoffrey is an author who writes on literature and society. Check him out at Writers Retreat or Advance.

Quote Quiz of the Month (October 2014): From what novel is the following quote: “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” Hint: This is from one of Matt de la Peña’s favorite authors. You are allowed to ask Matt (@mattdelapena) I’ll post the winner in next month’s piece.

Till next time. From The Writer’s Room at The Betsy-South Beach,

Abrazos,

Pablo


PABLO CARTAYA is an author and contributing editor of LitChat. Read his complete bio here.