As I’ve talked about in previous columns, I’ve always been a writer. But this week, I want to talk about someone who encouraged me to keep writing, when I had just about given up. There have been some influential mentors who have helped me develop my writing skills, and Amy Leigh Wicks is very near the top of that list.

Amy was someone I lived with during the year I spent in New Zealand – her husband was my co-worker and we all lived in a hostel together for about 10 months. While she was working full-time in town for a local company, Amy was also working toward getting her PhD in poetry at Victoria University, and being paid to do so.

Until I met Amy, I hadn’t actually met anyone who had gone on past their undergraduate degree to study creative writing or poetry. I knew it was an option, but I didn’t think I could afford that option and never seriously considered it.

Though I did take a few creative writing classes in college, I had almost stopped writing entirely by the time I graduated in 2017. Maybe I got overwhelmed with the world of writing and how competitive the field was, or maybe it was writer’s block, I’m not exactly sure. But in August of the same year, when I arrived at my new home, I was introduced to my housemates and had no idea Amy was going to show me a new side to writing.

Amy grew up in upstate New York, and moved to New York City for college. She’s been a writer for her entire life, similar to me, but she’s been in the heart of Manhattan poetry scene, reading her work at weekly poetry slams and coffee shops. Since I’ve only been to NYC once in my life for less than a week, her life seemed like such a dream, like something I’d seen in movies but never in real life.

The first day we knew each other, Amy asked me to go to a café down the road and write poetry with her. I had known a bit about her before meeting her, but I had no idea what to expect through interacting with her. As it turned out, she was extremely personable and showed me such compassion, even in the first few days we lived together.

Over the course of time that I lived with her, Amy taught me the basics of cooking, showed me how to grade academic papers (as I was her teaching assistant and she was a professor for the program I worked for), introduced me to stevia and got me hooked on “Stranger Things” during summer break. She showed me the best restaurants and thrift stores in town, demonstrated what self-care actually means, and memorably, she shared the process of being a writer with me.

One of the things she did that most impacted me was that she took me under her wings. Weekly, she led a poetry group, sometimes letting me lead the session, and during her class, she would allow me to participate in analyzing poems. Amy also answered my questions about what it would look like to pursue an education in creative writing, which has helped me shape how I view my own future.

She told me of when she was fresh out of college, she had a manuscript of her poems that she wanted to get published. Unfamiliar with the publication process, she started calling publishers and asking if they would read her work.

Getting hung up on countless times and being laughed at, she finally had one person tell her the proper way to get her manuscript considered. Amy had her first book of poems published when she was 23, and she just had her doctoral manuscript published last month.

During her early 20s, Amy met some of my favorite poets and artists, after all, she did live in the biggest city in the country. And she had done some brave things – conquering Lyme’s disease, marrying her husband after two months of dating and riding across the span of the U.S. on a motorcycle she barely knew how to drive.

Some of my favorite moments from my year abroad were going to the beach with Amy, sitting in on her poetry groups and watching movies with her on rainy summer days. While we are half the world apart now, we keep up as much as we can, but her influence on my life remains constant. Regardless of what happens between us, Amy Leigh Wicks will always be one of my favorite poets, professors, mentors and friends. She will also always be the person who revived my passion for writing, whether or not she knows it.

Alexis Draut is a recent graduate of Berry College and a staff writer for the Calhoun Times.

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