All I Ever Needed to Know About Being an Editor, I Learned from Steve

Growing up in Northern California, I was surrounded by accomplished writers and artists who were part of the countercultural hippie and back-to-the-land movements. In retrospect, it was quite a remarkable community in which to spend my childhood years. At the time, though, I didn’t really appreciate the vibrancy and unique nature of that creative milieu, being far more interested in exploring the woods, streams, and mountains of our very rural community. We all lived miles down dirt roads networked over a very rugged and utterly gorgeous geography.

I knew that we had some well-known figures living in our area, but it was so rarely a topic of conversation in our household that it never really registered with me as being of any particular note.

One of those figures was my stepdad’s cousin Steve Sanfield, a poet, storyteller, and the author of more than thirty books. More importantly, he was a really great guy. He is considered to be one of the founders of the American Storytelling Renaissance and was the first full-time Storyteller-in-Residence in the United States in 1977, through sponsorship by the California Arts Council. Steve was called “the master of American Haiku” by Michael McClure and “the master of myth, lore, and word-hoard” by Gary Snyder. Leonard Cohen wrote that Sanfield “writes about the small things / which stand for all things.”[1]

In the mid-90s, I was writing more seriously and pursuing my interest in writing children’s books. Steve had written several children’s books and I turned to him for a critique of my work. I was living in Seattle at the time and so I sent a few of my manuscripts down to him in a big manila envelope.

Our correspondence in the matter would influence my own approach to working with writers, although I would not know that for many years to come. Steve’s approach was simple: to be kind and constructive, to see the potential while gently addressing the work needing to be done, and most of all — to be encouraging.

Steve’s approach was in stark contrast to those who seem to believe that excoriating a writer, at any stage in their development, is somehow necessary or that it imbues them with some sort of mystical, sage-like persona. That’s just a misguided and counterproductive approach, perhaps a personality trait for some, and one that is not in my nature nor one that I will ever subscribe to.

Steve’s approach on the other hand, left me feeling optimistic and energized about my writing and my potential, while also clearly making known what I needed to work on. What a winning combination!

Thank you, Steve.

Here’s a link to his Wiki article.

Yours truly,

The Editor

[1] This information was retrieved from August House. 1/25/2022.