Writing Down the Bones has sold over a million and a half copies and has been translated into fourteen languages. The deceptively simple writing manual started a revolution in writing practice and continues to inspire, create, and instruct writers of all levels. Mayor Dan Barrone will present Natalie Goldberg with a Proclamation dedicating February 19, 2016, as Natalie Goldberg Day in Taos due to her longstanding influence on the creative arts where she has lived and taught for twenty-five years. Natalie is a poet, painter, teacher, and writer of over fourteen fiction and nonfiction books dedicated to writing and Zen.
If you can’t attend the Natalie Goldberg Day festivities (details here), read our toast to her, written by Shambhala Publications Vice President Jonathan Green, who recalls the experience of publishing Natalie’s first book early in his career:
Natalie Goldberg is a national treasure. Her work has given millions of people encouragement and permission to express themselves as writers—as true artists—free of the terrible weight of self-sabotage and self-censorship. Her work is about those excellent twins: freedom and discipline, and in this way it expresses profoundly Natalie’s Zen training and view of the world. In this way, as a work of “Zen in action,” Writing Down the Bones is one of the most important Zen books we at Shambhala have published over the years.
There are other reasons why this book has been so important to our company. Shambhala had just moved from Boulder to Boston, and I had just joined as Assistant to the Publisher, when we were offered it in 1985. This manuscript from a young woman in Minneapolis was perfect and needed next to no editing, and though we all knew we wanted it, as a book on creative writing it didn’t exactly fit into our existing categories. Was it even a “Shambhala book”? I remember a substantive discussion about this, and about our self-identity as publishers, that resulted in the decision to expand our definition and welcome this new publishing direction.
Thank goodness we did. Bones not only sold extremely well, and has been translated into eighteen languages, it opened the door to so many new projects. This has ranged from other wonderful books on writing and visual arts to our distinguished books on art therapy all the way to the lifestyle books on cooking and crafts and creative parenting published in our new Roost imprint. It was the catalyst to present books that help people express themselves artistically and creatively in the world, that encourage readers to put their aspirations into action.
I learned a couple of important lessons from Bones. The first came from the process I mentioned above. A publisher gets known for the genres it publishes, and over time they, along with the quality of the books themselves and the way in which they’re published, become its signature, its DNA. So it’s right to be clear and conscious when you make changes to the genre. But when you fall in love with a manuscript and you can see that other people will appreciate it as well, that’s a good sign it’s time to expand your self-definition.
Second is the title. For a very brief time the famous philosopher and Shambhala author Ken Wilber and his wife Treya were minority owners of the company. I was at the one editorial meeting I remember them attending when we discussed the title for this book. There were about ten potential titles as I recall, all decent, all plausible, but as she looked down the list Treya pointed to “Writing Down the Bones” and said, “That’s the one.” She was obviously right. Ever since then I have had a strong bias toward titles that have dimensionality and resonance, and especially when they have multiple positive meanings. These titles enrich the book and usually help it find its readers.
And now thirty years on we have another magnificent book from Natalie with another resonant and splendid title. If Writing Down the Bones is about expressing with your whole being the essence of experience, The Great Spring is about the fruits of a life lived in that way, a life of daring leaps and of drinking always from the great well of wisdom and inspiration that is available to us all. Her first book came as we were moving to Boston, and was a major part of an important inflection point for the company; her new one arrives as we make the journey back to Boulder. All of us at Shambhala couldn’t be prouder of being her publisher, of presenting her deep well of wisdom and integrity and creativity to the world. Thank you, Natalie, for all you give to all of us. Happy Natalie Goldberg Day!