Born on Ash Wednesday, during a snowstorm. Ritual and snow, two elements of life that coax wonder from the mundane, two spheres of existence that still fascinate me. 
My favorite novella is “The Pedersen Kid” by William Gass, a story about a snow squalls and an abandoned baby. Gass said he wrote to “entertain a toothache”; I first read his novella in a dentist’s office.

Reading is a ritual: allowing arrangements of letters, black print on a beige page, to become images and narratives. It sounds impossible, and yet it happens constantly. It is strangely like transubstantiation, a transformation through ritual, and though intensely personal and unique, it often reaches a new level during the collective experience (I think Mass, or James Salter reading “Last Night” at Rutgers-Newark).

Yet, in order for that reading experience to exist, someone, somewhere, must write.


My parents told me stories (Dad talked about water-less, mid-August double-sessions for football, Mom about the last working automats in Newark). My older siblings told me stories, and I found cassettes my oldest brother had made from hiding a tape recorder under the kitchen table. I listened to a world of laughter and language that existed before I was born. I began to read, and I loved: books about Navajo basket weaving; Punt, Pass, and Kick reissues; Amazing Spider Man and Uncanny X-Men; and later ordered dissertations on UFO propulsion from universities in Texas.

I loved odd concoctions of language and subjects: I would read about an old couple photographing a wobbling disk in northern Oregon, and then would study statistics for triples, which felt more difficult than home runs.

My family supported me, whether I was playing basketball or writing. They read my own earliest attempts at fiction: “The Being,” a story about aliens who harvest fish blood for fuel. Attempts at mimicking The Twilight Zone. I’m amazed at their patience: I would copy college football standings from the newspaper and give them as Christmas presents, and they would actually read them.


I took an Independent Study at Whippany Park High School with Tom Shoemaker, who helped me understand research, listened to my endless theories about the paranormal, and gave me confidence to write. I attended Susquehanna University, and studied fiction with Gary Fincke and Tom Bailey, who taught me that sometimes only one word was worth saving from a draft, that constant reading was necessary for writing, and that literary magazines were the proving ground for each generation of writers.

I learned the incredible gift of an endlessly supportive spouse.

I realized that teaching other writers was a continual source of renewal, and that teaching literature helped me appreciate the decisions of expert writers, from William Faulkner’s dexterity with point of view in As I Lay Dying to Flannery O’Connor’s ability to create a unique world in “Parker’s Back.”  I read End Zone by Don DeLillo again and again, drifting into the autumnal rhythms of football, the refrain of “Hit somebody, hit somebody, hit somebody.”

I learned from more writers at Rutgers-Newark. Alice Elliott Dark taught me how awareness of one’s “interior shorthand” could transform a writer’s ability to communicate.  Tayari Jones taught me that the first page of a story was “prime real estate.”  Jayne Anne Phillips taught me that every last word had to be refined, since a story could be made or broken through a single phrase. H. Bruce Franklin taught me that audience matters.


I write because words are worth the attention.

DeLillo once said: “I write for the page.”

Sure, the page receives the words first, but the real goal of writing is passing those words on to a reader, earning the time of someone who could be doing a thousand other things. What an honor: for someone to care, even for a moment or a minute, about something you’ve created. That’s why I write.

Nick Ripatrazone is the author of two books of poetry: Oblations and This is Not About Birds (Gold Wake Press 2012). His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, Shenandoah, The Iowa Review, West Branch, Colorado Review, and The Mississippi Review, and has received honors from ESPN: The Magazine.