One need only look at the canon of quiet champions behind creative icons to be reminded of how deeply and lastingly a young person setting out on a creative path can be touched by a simple word of encouragement from one of his or her heroes – one of the “spiritual and mental ancestors” we choose for ourselves, which are essential to our identity. Would Whitman be Whitman without Emerson’s generous letter? Would Sendak be Sendak without Ursula Nordstrom’s unflinching support? Would Bukowski have remained a mere postal worker without the patron who helped him quit his soul-sucking day job to be come a full-time writer? Would young Hermann Hesse have sunk into resignation without Thomas Mann’s deeply assuring letters?
Among the beneficiaries of these small yet life-changing kindnesses was teenage James Joyce (February 2, 1882–January 13, 1941).