Library Blog

Grace Notes: Thoughts on Thanks by Janice P. Nimura

Monday, January 23, 2023

We were pleased to open our new short-term exhibition, Grace Notes: Writers Acknowledge the Library, with a small cozy reception on Thursday, January 19. Drop by anytime the Library's open through February 22 to see a wide-ranging sample of the many, many books whose authors thank the Library - and learn more about the writers and their process. Full exhibition details can be found here.

Member author Janice P. Nimura (right, at the opening, with her book The Doctors Blackwell on display) kindly shared with us some

Thoughts on Thanks

Opening a book is committing hours to the company of another mind. When I turn the first page I often wonder: who is this person, really? Forget the face in the air-brushed author photo, the collection of credentials in the bio, the creative or analytical voice. Who is this person when they’re not being The Author? When they’re feeling the relief of having finished a monumental piece of work, when they’re getting ready to send it out into the world, when they’re raising a glass at last—what do they say, and how gracefully do they say it? Not always but often, those final pages are where writers reveal themselves. I usually read the acknowledgements first.

So when I write my own, I do it with care. The person who reads them is either like me—curious to get a glimpse of the writer before they embark on the journey of the book—or they’re not, in which case (glory be!) they’ve already read all the way to the end. Those final pages need to work two ways, as introduction and conclusion, hail and farewell. And, above all, thank you.

I love writing acknowledgements. I was raised without religion, but if I had to profess a creed, gratitude would be central to it. Writing acknowledgements feels holy, especially for the kind of writing I do. I tell stories that already exist, that lie hidden like fossilized footprints or pottery shards, deep in basement stacks or tucked between acid-free folders in gray cardboard boxes. To find them, and then to understand what they mean, requires help: from archivists and curators, historians and local experts, other writers and old friends with sharp eyes and analytical minds. Writing may be a solitary pursuit, but by the time I finish a manuscript I have a crowd of people to thank. Every time someone helps me, I add their name to a list, and the list becomes the engine that drives me: I need to finish this project so I can thank all these generous people.

When Carolyn Waters asked me to write my thoughts on acknowledgements, I went back and read my own. I felt grateful all over again, but also: I felt reconnected to the people I was thanking. Each of my books was a five-year journey, during which I collected not just anecdotes and footnotes but memories: the formidable archivist whose smile emerged like the sun when she recognized our shared fascination with antique medical instruments; the elegant great-granddaughter in Tokyo who treated me to lunch and fed me her family history. Re-reading all those names reminded me of extraordinary encounters. Another tenet of my personal creed is connection.

I’d like to thank Carolyn for asking me to think about all this. Gratitude and connection should be a daily practice. Once every five years isn’t nearly enough.
- Janice P. Nimura






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