My later-in-life writing success was well worth the wait.
I think it was a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2012. I was walking aimlessly along Laurel Avenue in downtown Takoma Park, Maryland, and feeling at sea. I was three years past my second kidney transplant, and while the surgery had been successful and I felt well physically, I was at a loss about what should come next in my life. I’d been on dialysis for five years before my transplant and had worked only intermittently during that time as an independent consultant and writer in the social-policy field.
After recovering from the surgery, I tried continuing my consulting, but frankly, I’d lost my appetite for the work. I’d even tried looking for a fulltime job, but at 61 years old, I ran headfirst into ageism. Besides, I didn’t want a job. Now that my body was mended, I needed something that would feed my soul.
That Sunday afternoon, I walked into a sandwich shop to ponder my future over a cup of black tea. After a few minutes, a flyer on the bulletin board across from me caught my eye. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but the words read something like: “WRITING THE BODY: A poetry workshop for people dealing with illness or caring for the chronically ill.” Under the words was a sketch of a fragile body and a telephone number.
To this day, I believe I was meant to see that flyer. Even though I wrote professionally and had dabbled in poetry for many years, I never considered myself a “real” writer or poet. What I didn’t know at the time was that the leader of the Writing the Body workshop was Anne Becker, a former poet laureate of Takoma Park. Working with her would open a door to the DMV writing community for me.
Since 2012, I’ve taken many workshops with Anne and written some of my best poetry at her dining room table. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to think of myself as a poet and begin reading my work outside of her workshops. My first readings were at the Takoma Park Community Center and the DC Ethical Society. As my confidence and body of work grew, more doors opened.
In 2015, I was admitted to the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Poet in Progress program. In 2017, I was selected to take part in the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s summer poetry workshop. I also began performing my poetry with a local percussion group, “More Than a Drum,” in public libraries, churches, community centers, and other venues around the DMV.
While I was making my way in the DMV poetry scene, I was also working on a memoir about my experience with kidney disease. In 2022, once I had a full manuscript, I began searching for an agent, to no avail. I was ready to put the manuscript in a drawer when, while attending a poetry reading at My Dead Aunt’s Books in Hyattsville, Maryland, I heard about the Washington Writers’ Publishing House (WWPH) book contest. Just before the deadline in November, I submitted my manuscript with little expectation. It was a dream come true when, in February 2023, WWPH notified me that my memoir, Transplant, had been selected as the nonfiction winner and would be published that fall.
The DMV writing community continues to support and inspire me. This past August, I was invited to read at People’s Book in Takoma Park as part of the Greenway Reading Series curated by Taylor Johnson (the current poet laureate of Takoma Park) and Elizabeth Bryant. I’ve also recently published poems in Gargoyle and Bourgeon, two well-regarded local literary journals. And Transplant has not only gotten local attention from WWPH and the Inner Loop, but is also receiving national recognition. I’ll be featured in the November/December 2023 issue of Poets & Writers magazine as one of five writers over 50 who are publishing their first book this year.
Currently, I’m working on a book of poetry and counting on the DMV’s rich literary resources to help me make this dream come true, too.
[Editor’s note: This piece is in support of the Inner Loop’s “Author’s Corner,” a monthly campaign that spotlights a DC-area writer and their recently published work from a small to medium-sized publisher. The Inner Loop connects talented local authors to lit lovers in the community through live readings, author interviews, featured book sales at Potter's House, and through Eat.Drink.Read., a collaboration with restaurant partners Pie Shop, Shaw’s Tavern, and Reveler’s Hour to promote the author through special events and menu and takeout inserts.]
Bernardine (Dine) Watson is a nonfiction writer and poet who lives in Washington, DC. She has
written on social-policy issues for many major foundations, nonprofit organizations, the
Washington Post, and She the People. Her poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies, including Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Bourgeon, and Gargoyle Magazine. Dine is a member of the 2015 class of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ Poet in Progress program and the 2017 and 2018 classes of the Hurston/Wright Foundation’s Summer Writers’ Workshop for Poetry. Her memoir, Transplant, won the 2023 Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize for nonfiction. Dine was selected by Poets & Writers as one of their “5 over 50” for 2023 and will be featured in the magazine’s November/December 2023 issue.