Nancy Mairs Declared “Literary Treasure” in Arizona

By Neal Comment

nancy-mairs-headshot.jpgPoet and essayist Nancy Mairs was selected for the third annual Arizona Literary Treasure Award, created by the state’s humanities council “to celebrate the significant impact of the poets, writers, publishers, and storytellers of Arizona and to encourage an ongoing and expanding audience for their work.” In an essay for the Beacon Press blog, Mairs talks about the crucial role the University of Arizona Press played in launching her literary career, and her brief flirtation with big commercial publishing:

“My proposal for the book that became Remembering the Bone House created a little flurry, culminating in an advance of $52,500 From Harper & Row. This was by far the biggest advance I have ever had, but I regretted the choice. Except for my editor and a liability lawyer, no one ever read the book, much less publicized it. I felt I had caused tremendous disappointment, as I felt after HarperCollins (by then owned by Rupert Murdoch) published the next book, Carnal Acts, and so I felt more released than dismayed by the rejection of my proposal for Ordinary Time.”

That freed Mairs to submit that book to North Point Press, which at the time was an independent publisher based in San Francisco; they took Ordinary Time but then folded (the name and a chunk of the backlist were later sold to FSG), and that brought Mairs to Beacon, where she’s stayed for nearly two decades. “The lessons of my writing career have proved pretty pedestrian,” she says of her experience. “If you concentrate on the task at hand, without aspiring to a particular outcome—whether wealth, literary acclaim, or audience adoration—something will happen… I can’t tell you whether it will be good, but I can promise you that it will surprise you. You just have to slog along.”