My writing teacher sent us out to identify a mentor whose writing life we might model ourselves after. This was to be an opportunity to find a writer with an internet presence if possible. (She did say that if our role model was a recluse, without an internet platform that would make the assignment easy).
An obvious choice would have been Melody Beattie, but instead someone else came startlingly to mind: Penelope Niven. Last year I fell in love with her memoir, Swimming Lessons. In it I learned that she began publishing books rather late in life (not much younger than I am now).
I went googling straight away to see if I might find a way to follow Penelope, hoping to take a peek at her path. She'd already inspired me with her memoir, and I suspected she had more big plans in the works. Maybe her focus would rub off on me. Or maybe even one day I'd ask her to blurb the book I aspire to write?
So how did she get started? "Penelope Niven was a high school English teacher, nearing 40, when she began work on a biography of Carl Sandburg. She had never written a book before. She didn’t have a Ph.D. in literature and hadn’t even been that familiar with Sandburg’s work.But the volume she produced 14 years later, “Carl Sandburg: A Biography”(1991), was ground breaking and helped revive interest in a nearly forgotten poet, Lincoln biographer and literary folk hero of his time."
I was happy to find her shining smile and elegant gray coif pictured at the top of her webpage: http://www.penelopeniven.com
But the print below her picture told me of her writing landmarks, achievements and honorary degrees-- in the past tense. Niven had passed last August of an aneurism, the day before my mom's birthday.
I tell myself coincidences are God's way of being anonymous. But does her death mean that I must give up on her as a “mentor” or role model?