Last night I found out Billie Letts passed away last August. My heart has been heavy since then. I greatly respected and looked up to her. She was a kind and soft spoken woman who gave me much needed confidence in October 2004.
That October, one of my favorite authors, Billie Letts, was coming to our college and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Way back in 2004, I was in college. I was not the traditional college student. Being 25 at the time, I had been out of school for years, and a mother of four small children, and didn’t have the first clue of how much I still needed to learn. I knew I wanted to be a writer and was going for my English degree, but had zero confidence in myself or my ability to write a piece of work another person would want to read. I had to write though. It was part of me and who I was and wanted to be.
Getting to meet an author in person was/is one of the most exciting things that could happen to me. Meeting authors is like meeting celebrities. She was my first and the one I will remember for the rest of my life.
That day, she was supposed to speak in the auditorium for any student that wanted to attend. Wearing my best pair of wide-legged jeans and blue knit sweater, I sat in the waiting area as the crowd filed inside. I sat on a bench, her books in my lap and my notebook gripped in my hands, ready to write any words of wisdom she could impart on me. As the waiting area emptied, in walks Billie Letts. She stands there for a minute, looking around, her eyes stopping on me. I imagine I looked wide-eyed and scared to death. Then, she did the unimaginable; she sat down next to me.
“You’re a writer aren’t you,” she asked as if she already knew the answer.
“I want to be,” I told her.
“Do you carry that notebook everywhere?” I nodded and she went on while my head spun. “You don’t have to be published to be a writer. If you’re published, you just become a published writer. Keep writing and one day you’ll get there.”
I don’t remember what else we talked about, but I do remember taking many notes and talking until one of the people in charge came and told her she had to get inside. I beamed. Seriously, beamed that Billie Letts let time get away from her while talking to me. Me, a small town nobody with little education and big dreams.
She spoke her magical words and made us all laugh before signing our books. By the time it was my turn to have my books signed I had pulled myself together and asked her what ever happened to the paintings in the book Shoot The Moon. She smiled and said I was the first person to ever ask that and it was supposed to be answered in the book, but she forgot. She asked if I was going to the dinner later that night and I smiled and said yes. (I bought my ticket as soon as I could)
I kid you not, when I left there, I went to get my hair done (see picture above) and wore a suit. A suit. A really ugly brown suit. I didn’t know how to act. I was on cloud nine! My then husband and I showed up about an hour early since I would have died if we were late. I went upstairs and waited for my then husband to come up. When he walked through the door my jaw might have fallen to the floor. He was carrying a box and walking with none other than Billie Letts herself. He hadn’t realized who she was and she had no clue who he was, but when she smiled at me I knew she figured it out. She spoke to both of us, laughing that she meet up with me again.
I will never forget that night and how it felt to be told by a published writer that I was already a writer. I will never forget the kindness she showed me when I felt like I would never climb the Mount Everest of education, motherhood, and author. She signed one of my books, “We’re becoming old friends fast.” I had all of her books signed with something that we discussed that day. Those books were in a box that was left in Tennessee (really long story). I have tried so many times to get the books back and maybe someday I will, but I’ll always have the memories of meeting one of the greats in literature.
Thank you Billie Letts for all that you did for me.