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A Pep Talk: Books as Permission Slips

February 23, 2023

by Maggie Smith

I recently launched a Substack newsletter called For Dear Life. “For Dear Life” means two things to me. One, it’s the way I’m holding on these days. I’m holding on—to the good, the real, the true—for dear life. Maybe you are, too. It’s been . . . a time. But the other side of this phrase for me is the genuine affection and genuine wonder I feel for this life. This beautiful, surprising, complicated, bewildering-in-ways-large-and-small life. This dear life.

I started the newsletter because I wanted to have a closer, more direct relationship with readers, writers, and teachers. Yes, students and colleagues, too, so that means you, Naslund-Mann family! (*waves awkwardly from my writing desk*) My hope is that For Dear Life will be a more personal, more durable space for us to create the kind of community we can’t create on social media. A place to talk about writing, share ideas, and be inspired. To make the space teacher-friendly, I’m doing my best to link up annotations, craft tips, revision hacks, and other writing and teaching resources I’ll be sharing.

In a recent post, I wrote about the books that served as permission slips for me as I wrote my memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful. As I tell my MFA students: “The risks you’re taking in your work now aren’t just for you. You’re writing permission slips for the writers who come after you, writers who’ll see in your work new things to try—with form, with content—that they might not have considered before.”

I hope this newsletter gets you thinking about the books that have served as permission slips for you, and also about how your work might inspire and embolden others.

Happy reading and writing—



Maggie Smith is a poet, writer, editor, and teacher. She has published several books of poetry and prose, including Good Bones (you might know the title poem) and two recent bestsellers, Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change and Goldenrod. Smith’s next book, a memoir, You Could Make This Place Beautiful, will be out on April 11, 2023.


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