Who knows the importance of community to a writer better than Julia Fierro? In 2002, she founded The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, one of New York’s most important literary institutions. Over 2000 writers have passed through Sackett Street’s writing classes to date. Julia’s debut novel, CUTTING TEETH, comes out May 13th, 2014 from St. Martin’s Press. Take a look at Julia’s social network channels (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest) and you’ll see that she’s at the center of a thriving group of some of the most gifted writers of our time, sharing news, advice, and pithy humor on everything from doing copyedits with a sleeping child in your lap to a rave review in a national magazine. With the same dedication to community that Sackett Street is known for, Julia came up with a lovely collection of enigmatic book dedications, and some thoughts on to whom writers bestow this high honor. Her post also functions as an excellent mid-winter “To-read” list, which is why we’ve linked to each book on Goodreads below.
Love is sacrifice.
What is more sacred to a writer than that stretch of white space at the start of their published book, otherwise known as The Dedication?
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I asked writers about the people, places and pets they chose to honor in that sacred spot. Their speedy and enthusiastic responses were surprising. Unlike the dreaded acknowledgments (dreaded by me, in any case—what if I leave someone out?), for most, the dedication is a no-brainer. They simply know who is most deserving. We won’t mention the handful of books dedicated to partners, lovers and friends, who may have proved unworthy of the dedication later. That is another story.
The type of love and gratitude that motivates most writers’ dedications falls into three major categories: partner, friendship, and familial.
Precious are the words worthy of a writer’s partner—wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, soulmate—who may be responsible for convincing us to take that dusty manuscript out of the drawer. They are our constant companions who put up with our ever-growing piles of books, our scraps of notes, as well as the stratospheric highs and lows of our writing process and publishing experience. Our partners tolerate being passed over for the company of imaginary people who exist solely in our minds; they put up with our doubt and anxiety, with us waking them in the wee hours of the night to ask—do you think character X is believable? Do you think the book has enough narrative momentum? Do you think anyone will want to represent it, publish it, read it, love it?
Gillian Flynn, in her darkly thrilling novel, DARK PLACES:
What can I say about a man who knows how I think and still sleeps next to me with the lights off?
Emma Straub’s pitch perfect dedication in her Hollywood-themed novel, LAURA LAMONT’S LIFE IN PICTURES:
FOR MY HUSBAND,
A GOLDEN STATUE
IF EVER THERE WAS ONE
And love tongue-in-cheek style—David Rosen’s dedication to his wife in his novel, I JUST WANT MY PANTS BACK:
For Rachel, Damn It
Many writers dedicate their books to friends and companions, but of the muse kind—cheerleaders of the writer and their work. Teachers, mentors, early readers, kindred literary spirits, agents and editors. They are the people who stop us from quitting, who listen to us talk endlessly about the book, supporting our delusion that it is the most important thing in the universe. They are the friends who remind us why we write, who feed us great meals and make us laugh when we most need to, who cut away the words we cannot bear to, and who respond to midnight texts with snippets of prose, as well as despairing questions like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing? And Why isn’t my agent answering my emails? And Am I wasting my time writing a book no one will ever read?
George R. R. Martin’s dedication to Phyllis Eisenstein, friend and fellow fantasist, in A STORM OF SWORDS:
for Phyllis, who made me put the dragons in
T.S. Eliot’s famous dedication of THE WASTE LAND to “the greater craftsman”:
For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro
Amber Sparks’ story collection MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES, which is dedicated to a beloved feline companion:
For Loki, who for ten years was my furry armrest, my (mostly) rapt audience, and my constant companion as I wrote these stories.
Family is many a writer’s go-to dedication choice. Perhaps, because we tend to show them our less than pretty sides, which tend to surface when we are waiting for an acceptance, a rejection, a call back, an email, a precious piece of correspondence that proves all our hard work is not in vain. Some of the writers I polled on the topic alluded to their dedication choices as an apology of sorts—to the loved ones they neglected while toiling over their work-in-progress, or to those from whose lives they borrowed book material. Most often they are parents, but grandparents, children, siblings, great-aunt Opal whose story inspired your novel, also grace the dedication pages of all genres of books.
Megan Abbott’s dedication choice for DARE ME is right in tune with the book’s deadly ambitious cheerleaders:
For my parents, who taught me ambition
And I can’t help but mention Emma Straub again (she is a natural dedicator), this time for her story collection, OTHER PEOPLE WE MARRIED:
For my parents, Clint Eastwood and Miss America, with love and gratitude
Mitchell S. Jackson, author of THE RESIDUE YEARS, included a quote from his mother on his dedication page:
Every decision you’ve made has brought you to this moment.
–Lillie Dora Jackson (Mom)
In her debut novel, TOMORROW THERE WILL BE APRICOTS, Jessica Soffer found a way to thank her father and mother, each in a unique way:
For my father, who taught me to sit still and imagine.
For my mother, who taught me to stop sitting around and to put my imagination to words.
Other favorites I found while flipping through books on my own shelves, were Larry McMurty’s dedication in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW is lovingly dedicated to my hometown) and Deborah Copaken Kogan’s unique and thoughtful dedication in her novel THE RED BOOK. The type is set so that the font gradually moves from faint to bold:
For the ghosts of my past:
dead or alive,
out of touch or in speed dial,
Like many writers publishing their first book, my own choice was obvious. My debut novel, CUTTING TEETH, is dedicated to my husband, my partner of sixteen years. He showed me how to take myself seriously enough to keep writing, and also how to laugh at myself when I needed to toss a novel in a drawer and start fresh. I couldn’t leave out my children—to listen to my six-year-old son read the book’s dedication aloud is magic.
Luca and Cecilia,
who taught me to love
and be loved
My husband is also a writer, and recently finished a memoir. He was among the writers I polled on the topic of dedications.
I texted him: Who will you dedicate your book to?
Him: You. Duh.
CUTTING TEETH was recently included on “Most Anticipated Books of 2014” lists by HuffPost Books, The Millions, Flavorwire, and Marie Claire. Find out more about Julia and CUTTING TEETH on her author website. If you’re headed to the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference at the end of the month, be sure to check out the panels that Julia is on.
Who are YOU dedicating your book to? Join the discussion on Book County!