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By Ella Kohler
Hometown Weekly Intern
“He said, ‘Do you write poetry now?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I never show it to anyone.’”
For much of Westwood resident Lynne Viti’s life, she kept her writing private. However, she is now an award-winning poet and author with numerous published works. Along the way, Viti learned — and taught — her fair share of lessons, ultimately shaping her as the writer and fighter she is today.
Viti was born in Baltimore, and so was her interest in poetry. When she was sixteen, she attended her first live poetry reading. The event took place at a club downtown and featured poet Sam Cornish. “It was like spoken word poetry before there was spoken word poetry,” she says. “And he was mesmerizing.”
During her high school years, Viti also began to write her own poetry. Her teachers submitted her poems to writing contests, winning her a handful of prizes. With this boost of encouragement, she continued to write creatively in college.
However, this new environment produced unforeseen challenges. First off, there were no more teachers entering Viti’s work into contests for her; if she wanted to get her poems out, she was going to have to do it herself.
This change not only introduced new responsibilities, but it also summoned an unexpected confidence blow. Early in her college experience, Viti received an “absolutely withering critique” from a senior editor. “She didn’t like any of it,” says Viti. “It was really kind of mean-spirited … so I continued to write, but I did not show my work to most people.”
Amidst battling this self-doubt, Viti was thrown into an entirely new arena of challenges. After years of teaching, she decided to pursue law. “I loved law school; I went to BC, I loved it,” she says. “But I did not love a lot of things about the practice of law.”
“Everything was always a drama and a crisis,” Viti says. The constant surprises and busyness of being a trial attorney proved challenging for family life, as she then had two small children.
Additionally, she worked in a law firm where female representation was severely lacking. “Once I got into the work world, it was so male-dominated those days. By the time I was in law school, almost half the class was women, but there were no women partners — they were all secretaries.”
Viti eventually left the firm to start her own practice, then ultimately returned to full-time teaching. Reflecting on her law career, she says: “I'm glad I did it because I was always kind of… I wouldn’t say I was reserved, but I wasn't a fighter, particularly in small ways, like trying to return something to the store that didn't work. Or something big. I got much better at that.”
Soon, this fighting attitude would be tested in the writing arena. While practicing law, Viti’s creative writing had largely been pushed aside and become only a casual hobby. However, one trip to the bookstore altered the course of her writing completely.
During one of many trips to the New England Mobile Book Fair, Viti stumbled upon a realization. As the name “Sam” was paged over the loudspeaker, she figured out that one of the employees was in fact Sam Cornish, the first poet she’d heard perform back in Baltimore around forty years prior.
“I had seen this guy a million times,” she says. “He worked way in the back, and if you ever had a question about where a book was, you went and asked him. His name was Sam, but I didn’t know he was Sam Cornish because all these years had gone by.”
Once she had introduced herself, Cornish invited Viti to attend the poetry workshops he was leading at the time. Her attendance at these workshops, coupled with Cornish’s support, helped Viti overcome her fears of failure.
Though Cornish urged Viti to submit her work, she says, “I thought: ‘I don’t want to go through that again, get rejected.’”
However, he later revealed he had submitted her work to an exhibit put on by Boston City Hall — and that her poem had been selected.
Eventually, Viti began submitting her own poems, despite potential rejection. Now, she has published multiple poetry collections, essays, op-eds, and other various fiction and non-fiction works. She has spoken on the radio and has been published online and in print. Her new book of short stories, “Going Too Fast,” will be released in March of 2020.
It cannot be said for certain what brought Viti out of her writing shell, whether it was her time as a lawyer, a professor, a workshop-attendee, or something else. However, she ultimately took the chance and put her work — and herself — out there.
“Now’s the only time I have to do what I’ve got to do,” she says. “That’s the other thing about getting older. You kinda go, ‘Well, it’s now or never.’”