In fourth grade, in Gusher, Utah, I won four dollars in a school district essay contest on “Why We Should Eat a Better Breakfast.” And yes, this morning I had a bowl of my own excellent granola, followed by a hike in the hills near my home in Walnut Creek, California.
In high school I began writing in earnest. I have now in my files a folder marked “Poetry, Very Bad,” and another, “Poetry, Not Quite So Bad.” Writing served a good purpose for that very dramatic, insecure adolescent. Also at that time I began to keep a diary, which I still maintain and which has been indescribably useful to me both as a writer and as a pilgrim on the earth.
After graduating from Brigham Young University with an MA in theatre, teaching for a year in Utah at Snow College, and traveling for a year, I taught part-time at BYU in the English department and was then hired by the motion picture studio on campus to write educational and religious screenplays.
While performing at the university as Mrs. Antrobus in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth,” I met and fell in love with Gerald Pearson, a shining, blond, enthusiastic young man, who fell in love with me and my poems.
“We’ve got to get them published,” he said on our honeymoon, and soon dragged me up to the big city, Salt Lake City, to see who would be first in line to publish them. “Poetry doesn’t sell,” insisted everyone we spoke to, and I, somewhat relieved, put publishing on the list of things to do posthumously.
But not Gerald. “Then I’ll publish them,” he said. Borrowing two thousand dollars, he created a company called “Trilogy Arts” and published two thousand copies of a book called Beginnings, a slim, hard-back volume with a white cover that featured a stunning illustration, “God in Embryo,” by our good friend Trevor Southey, now an internationally known artist. On the day in autumn of 1967 that Gerald delivered the books by truck to our little apartment in Provo, I was terrified. I really had wanted to do this posthumously.
You came running
With a small specked egg
Warm in your hand.
You could barely understand,
As I told you of Beginnings–
Of egg and bird.
That years ago you began,
Smaller than sight.
As egg yearns for sky
And seed stretches to tree,
But there’s so much more.
You and I, child,
Have just begun.
Worlds from now
What might we be?–
We, who are seed
We toted a package of books up to the BYU bookstore, and asked to see the book buyer. “Well,” she said, “nobody ever buys poetry, but since you’re a local person, let me take four on consignment.” As they came in packages of twenty, we persuaded her to take twenty--on consignment. Next day she called and asked, “Those books you brought up here. Do you have any more of them?”
I had anticipated that the two thousand books, now stacked in our little closet and under our bed and in my Daddy’s garage, would last us years and years as wedding presents. But immediately we ordered a second printing. Beginnings sold over 150,000 copies before we gave it to Doubleday and then to Bookcraft.
Beginnings was followed by other volumes of poetry: The Search, The Growing Season, A Widening View, I Can’t Stop Smiling, and Women I Have Known and Been. Most of the poems from the earlier books now appear in a compilation, Beginnings and Beyond. The poems have been widely reprinted in such places as Ann Landers’ column, the second volume of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and college textbooks such as Houghton Mifflin’s Structure and Meaning: an Introduction to Literature. That first little volume of verse, and my husband’s determination, laid the foundation for my entire career.
Another characteristic of my husband was to have a profound effect on both my career and my life. Soon after our engagement, he informed me that homosexual feelings and behavior had been part of his past. But he desperately wanted to do things the “right” way. He loved me and wanted a family. I loved him and knew we could make it work: all that was needed was his repentance and my love.
We each gave the best we had. But after twelve years of marriage and four children, it was evident we were in an impossible situation. We divorced in 1978, remained friends, and six years later I sang to him as he lay on my couch dying of AIDS. It never occurred to me that I would tell that tragic story, but seeing that I was in a position to shed light on a very misunderstood subject, I wrote Goodbye, I Love You, published in 1986 by Random House.
I am fortunate to have been able to support my four children through a writing career marked by a wide variety of books, films, plays, speaking and performing. Those first copies of Beginnings, tucked away in the closet, opened the door to a richly creative life that includes over forty books and plays. For this I am deeply grateful.