BATAVIA — It doesn’t matter that Sandy Hiortdahl’s latest published work will reap her less than three dollars.
She is happy to be writing and pursuing a passion that was fueled by the late John Gardner. His book “On Becoming a Novelist” played a big part in motivating her to write novels and poems. Considered a classic exploration of the creative processes and career paths of modern fiction writers, it also got her involved in the local John Gardner gathering every year at this time.
“He said that people who are drawn to the craft of writing are drawn to people ... you do it for the love of it, that really resonated with me,” she said Thursday in Maryland while en route to Batavia. “This is a really hard time of the year for professors. I always show up a little bit stressed and edgy. And when I walk into the room it’s like a family. I think it has a lot to do with Batavia and the type of people there. It’s a small town and it’s got that small-town feel and has a Midwestern friendly (feeling). It’s comfortable for strangers.”
The 15th annual John Gardner Conference is from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in room T-102, Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd.
Hiortdahl is an assistant English professor at Northeast State Community College in Tennessee. Her own love of the written word started at age 18. She has no regrets about having a regular job teaching five English composition classes with summers off.
But the 49-year-old hasn’t given up on her dream, submitting compositions and poems to literary publications. She had just gotten her latest acceptance letter from a poetry magazine for a short poem. When she calculated the fee per word, the entire payment came out to just $2.70. It’s not about the money, she said, and she credits Gardner for the legacy of works that he left behind.
She read “On Becoming a Novelist” in September 1982, just two months after Gardner died in a motorcycle accident. That book changed her life as a teen, she said. She began to learn more and more about the native Batavia writer, essayist, literary critic and university professor.
“The more I found out, the more I respected his farm upbringing, his connection to family and community, and his dedication to the craft of writing. My own upbringing, on a 100- acre cattle farm in Maryland, was similar: hard work, core values, the importance of stories,” she said. “So when I first heard that Charley Boyd was doing a dedication to Gardner 15 years ago, I put on my leather jacket with a picture of Gardner painted on the back, and I drove the nine hours up. I became very quickly a part of the John Gardner family. Even people far away get brought into it.”
Hiortdahl has appreciated the kindness of locals who have taken her to Gardner spots, such as his gravesite and the Pok-a-Dot. She noted how people leave trinkets at his grave and some offer clues as to who visited. There is the couple from Canada who leave Canadian coins and others leave buttons or photos.
“It’s a kind of a weird feeling to show up and see that other Gardner afficionados have been there before, and to add a little piece of your own life to the collage,” she said. “I work hard to bring in other interested people and it pleases me no end when they become part of it as well. Gardner’s artistic excellence and his honest dedication to the craft, along with a true Batavian spirit of generosity and inclusion, has brought us together every year. It’s a pleasure being part of it.”
The day is to include scholarly presentations, a special performance of Gardner’s one-act play, Joel Gardner’s preview of “The Sunlight Man” (the movie about his father’s legacy) and lunch at the Pok-a-Dot. A $30 fee includes all.