By Kailan Manandic in Life
There are “two ways to do well in this world: Be born into a wealthy family, or have a huge chip on your shoulder.”
Jess Walter, a former National Book Award finalist, said growing up in Spokane put him in the latter.
At the Columbia Writers Series on Feb. 11, Walter spoke to a packed crowd about the hard work it took him to succeed.
Coming from a high school he described as a “bong and nunchuck factory,” Walter faced a lot of doubt on his way to becoming a writer. But at 13, he fell in love with his first author, Kurt Vonnegut, and knew that writing was his passion.
After high school, Walter was trained as a journalist before becoming a father at 19. “My dad had two rules if he was going to help me with college: keep a 3.0 GPA and don’t get anyone pregnant. Two semesters in, I had a 2.4 and a daughter.”
Walter’s daughter only strengthened his desire to become a writer.
“Reading is one of the great paths to becoming a writer,” Walter said. He lives by the philosophy of “reading with a vengeance” and would read any piece of literature he could find. “Books take me to new worlds,” he said. “I want to inspire readers the same way I was.”
Walter wrote for several years before anything was published. He called his short story submissions “manilla boomerangs” as they would be consistently returned and rejected. Now he is an award-winning author with several works deemed “captivating” by the New York Times and “bad-ass” by Esquire magazine.
According to Walter, he’s glad that hundreds of his short stories were rejected. “My early work was really bad,” he said. But “year after year, my rejected work got better.”
During the next portion of the Columbia Writers Series, Walter was excited to use the crowd as his “guinea pigs.” He read an excerpt from one of his works-in-progress called the “Con List,” a short story that starts as a pros and cons list but bleeds into a narrative.
The crowd gifted Walter with a thunderous applause as he finished his reading.