I have a sad heart.
I just learned extraordinary writing mentor, Harriette Austin, passed away this past Saturday.
Back in 2011, I wrote these words about Harriette here at One Ringing Bell just before one of her conferences at which she had asked me to teach.
“Harriette Austin is legendary in this area as a writing instructor and encourager extraordinaire. I’d read about Austin and her writing classes for years, always intending to go, but my children’s soccer games and ballet classes conflicted with the evening sessions she held.
In my fiction manuscript and screenplay, Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, a character, Aunt Laney, mentors a young girl toward her aspiration of writing. One night, I had a dream, and in it, I saw a picture of Harriette Austin like one I’d recently seen in a newspaper, and heard someone say, “She’s the real Aunt Laney.”
Shortly, after that, I saw a way I could take one of her classes, and what I found is that Harriette Austin is indeed the real Aunt Laney. She’s all about planting seeds of hope and encouragement in those who are struggling to believe in their own ability. Those of us who’ve attended her classes adore her. Her knowledge, wisdom, and insight in the area of creative writing are almost unparalleled.”
Madeleine L’Engle says the writer often writes more than she knows. I imagined Aunt Laney and found her come to life in Harriette Austin. Through her conferences at which I taught several times, I started a Christian Writer’s group in this area. And from that group, members have gone on to have pieces published in national magazines, and I feel at least one is moving towards a book deal. I can draw a line from their successes straight back to Harriette Austin. My group is not alone. I know of at least two others who started writer’s groups out of Harriette’s nurturing. No way to know how many others there are.
And we couldn't begin to guess how many writers are published today because of Harriette and how many more will be published in the future?
She has truly left a legacy, and we want to make her proud. Writing is a hard, hard business. Discouragement at every turn. I saw her last during a visit I made at the retirement home where she lives. Shelves of books lined her apartment walls. I had to wonder how many of those volumes might be in print because of her inspiration. As I showed her the published pieces from my writer’s group and shared what I was doing, I felt like a little kid bringing my creations to my mom. As always, I left encouraged. I don’t think you could be in Harriett’s presence and not be.
Harriette had a Yale University School of Drama graduate program degree, as well as decades of experience in Hollywood. Oh, the stories she could tell. But I think her greatest joy was inspiring others.
When you scroll through a Google search for Harriette Austin, what you see is author after author thanking her for her influence in their book acknowledgements. Mine is right there, too, in Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees, for which I won a book deal in a writing competition. Perhaps, it is because of Harriette that I even had the courage to enter.
I will always miss you dear, dear Harriette Austin, the real Aunt Laney. I hope I can be to others even a fraction of what you've meant to me. Thank you for everything.
"I thank my God every time I remember you . . ." (Philippians 1:3).