(Y)Our Hearts, (Y)Our Scars: How Adina Talve-Goodman Changed My Life

Published in
9 min readJan 3


Book cover for Your Hearts, Your Scars by Adina Talve-Goodman. Blue cover, white text, with the image of a heart weaving through the text.

At some point you have to rationalize all the rejection you face as a writer. If you can’t, then it’s time to take a hard look and measure it against the things that bring you joy and decide which of those things you want to be a vessel for. I was turning 40 and had very few successes in my writing life. I had twin girls to raise and a bookstore and cafe to run. My family had been full of men who made poor decisions in life that affected their children in bad ways, and pursuing writing began to feel like the wrong decision as I considered my own children’s future. Had the direction of my world pivoted toward New York City, or the possibility of returning to school to pursue an MFA, then I would have been justified in slogging on with writerly dreams in my head, but I had fallen in love with a girl and the town she was born and raised in. And in that town we started a bookstore. A boy, a girl, a bookshop. The stuff of Hallmark movies. With our twin girls, a life filled with snowy days, and books in the heart of the picturesque Rocky Mountains, I would have learned to live without a part of myself that had sustained me through difficult times.

Then I applied for the Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship. I read everything I could about Adina. I read her award-winning story, I Must Have Been That Man. I was immediately moved by her humanity, her self awareness, and her skill on the page. In that essay, I met someone I would never have a chance to speak to. Next, I read her memorial page. Adina died of cancer in 2018. I could see that she was an amazing talent robbed of a future but possessing an indomitable spirit that would survive to help underserved writers along their own journey.

In my life as an undocumented immigrant, writing was my only source of control when everything felt completely out of control. My writing brought me a few bylines, and a window into the world of writers, but after 10 years, rejections had built up. In the decade before that, I went from querying agents for a novel by post to emailing them. Analog and digital rejections!

I had been an admirer of One Story for years and scrolling through Twitter, I stumbled onto their newly-minted fellowship. The fellowship was for writers like me — without an MFA and whose work addressed adversity. I read the application over and over. If there was ever a way to make a go of this writing thing, then this seemed like a good opportunity. I polished a short story titled A Ski Lesson for Geeta and I asked friends if I could put them down as references.

I put everything into my application. My fears, my hopes, my heart. Looking back on it now, I would even consider it my goodbye letter to my writing. Writing gave me so much joy when there was so little of it to be derived from the uncertainties of undocumented immigrant life and the inescapable feeling of never quite belonging anywhere.

The team at One Story, Maribeth Batcha, Hannah Tinti and others, decided I was their choice. When I received my acceptance in January of 2020, I fell out of my chair as my children (then only 4) played on the floor. I lifted them into the air as they giggled with no comprehension of the good news delivered to my email.

The fellowship offered a year of classes, mentorship, a manuscript review, a stipend, and attendance in New York at the 2020 One Story Summer Writers Conference. It sounded like a dream, my life entrenched in a rural and remote Colorado ski town.

Guilt and doubt crept in, inviting me to think about all the people I could freshly disappoint in my life. But as my wife came to understand what was happening, she decided to help make schedule changes in our life to facilitate more writing. I went deeper into writing and discovered I could make those other voices quieter. Two acceptances not connected to my having won the fellowship came in the following months. My writing life finally felt it was moving in the right direction.

Then COVID made everything less certain. Friends died. My bookshop’s future was shaky and my wife would be sick for weeks with lingering effects of COVID. But after a month of hardship, the store’s customers came to its rescue, my wife got better, the PPP loan helped the store’s staff get back to work, and the writing community of One Story became an anchor in the storm that would derail my writing life for perhaps the final time. Once again, writing saved me.

I would continue the year in One Story classes, buoyed by the incredible staff, and while the 2020 conference was cancelled, I would later attend the virtual 2021 conference. New York would have to wait for another day, perhaps one where I would have a book, an agent, and a publisher. Writer dreams didn’t seem so far-fetched anymore. The year came to a close, another fellow would be chosen and I had a story that would become my novel in progress.

But throughout I continued to think about Adina. Who was she beyond a Google search? What about her would lead those around her to create a fellowship to help someone like me?

Adina Talve-Goodman was a managing editor of One Story and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She performed as a star clown in Italian clown school. She was a well known actress in St. Louis’s local theater scene. At nineteen, Adina received a heart transplant for a congenital heart condition and began writing about it, the result being her posthumously published collection of essays, Your Hearts, Your Scars. A collection of essays that remind us all that each day is a gift.

From the announcement of my winning the Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship the world began to shrink. My dear friend, Rabbi Robbi Sherwin, commented on my Facebook status that she knew the Talve-Goodman family. A local dog trainer shared the same love for the Talve-Goodman family and told me about their Jewish community in St. Louis. A friendly couple visiting from New York left a note for me at the bookstore, “We knew Adina and we loved her so much. Congratulations!” An email exchange with an Adina who now works for the Center for Fiction shared that she was an intern who worked at One Story with Adina Talve-Goodman. There would be more of those connections in the years since the fellowship. A reminder that Adina’s legacy — her love — cast a wide net that touched many lives and then reached deep into the shadowy Rocky Mountains to find me.

Your Hearts, Your Scars is a funny, frank, and eye-opening account of life as can only be told by someone who was familiar with their own mortality from an early age. Adina’s essay “San Diego, 2001” about her time with fellow teen organ transplant recipients is an intimate revelation of young girls who still held that familiar teen lust in them tinged with the looming possibility of death. In “Thank God for the Nights that Go Right,” her musings about whether she was wasting her life are all too familiar for people who are completely able-bodied, wondering if their life is being used to the fullest and then confronting what that may mean.

Adina wrestles with her body as home and how much a new heart will affect the things she feels and does. She considers the journey of her heart, the life of her old heart. She makes lists of things that are uniquely her in case her heart transplant imprints something from the donor onto her personality.

We take this thing beating inside us for granted, sometimes forgetting that it keeps us alive. We use terms like heartbreak, heartless, heartfelt, but don’t often take into account the physical nature of the thing. Adina is constantly measuring her heartbeat, her breaths, the strength she possesses with her new heart. Trying to be careful with it. Trying not to waste it.

In “Your Heart, Your Scars, Zombies,” Adina shows us her heart. Adina and her family pass her old heart around the Thanksgiving table. They examine the “large, pale yellow, and deformed” heart and offer “[T]hanks to my old heart for doing all it could, thanks to the new heart for being so good.” But Adina does not let this moment pass without recognizing that somewhere another family is spending Thanksgiving without a loved one. She understands “[M]y family’s gratitude, our joy, comes in large part from another family’s grief. It’s not a direct correlation, nor a direct result. I did not cause that death, but I did wait for it to come for a long time, and when it did, I was grateful.”

In the year since the fellowship, I’ve done some amazing writer things. I’ve become a better writer. I’ve made some amazing new friends. I’ve been a writer in residence at MacDowell and in the Idaho home of Ernest Hemingway. I’ve been invited to read my stories by friends in the writing world at their events. The literary life I suddenly have would not have been possible without Adina Talve-Goodman.

With the release of Your Hearts, Your Scars, Adina’s collection of essays, the whole world can feel the things I’ve felt about Adina. Adina received a heart transplant at the age of nineteen and these seven essays reveal a tenderness and human vulnerability only someone of her immense talent could reveal. As an editor for One Story, Adina encouraged the work of emerging writers and wrote personal notes that one rejected author would call “antidotes to rejection.”

During the application process for the Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship and in subsequent years, I have pondered and wrestled with questions about Adina and the fellowship. One of them being the phrase “bodies of difference.” One Story describes this as writing that centers, celebrates, or reclaims being marginalized through the lens of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, illness, disability, trauma, migration, displacement, dispossession, or imprisonment.

But for me I’d never seen the turn of phrase. In her words from her collection she considers the zombielike nature of her body remarking, “[I]t is this emptiness, this new relation to death, this body of difference that is neither alive nor buried that offers opportunity to discuss what about this radical, nonbinary body terrifies or enthralls. What can be written on a blank body of difference? How can it be read or interpreted? Perhaps if you can name another’s alterity, you can maybe control that body, make it work for you, make it useful. For a slave narrative, it can be said that the body was created to work, focusing on its usefulness and not its humanity. What, then, for an illness narrative? Perhaps I am what you make me — I live in this way, a different body, a body of hybridity, to mean something to you, to your experiences, to practice your empathy, to fetishize, even to inspire.”

It is impossible not to think of Adina’s legacy as something that hasn’t given four (and upon the release of this essay, five) people a leg up in the writing world. Beyond my writing, Adina has brought me friendships I would have never had, and in some way I think that is something she would have loved.

Since my fellowship with One Story ended I have been delighted to see a crop of fellowships supporting writers of color flourishing across the literary landscape. PEN Emerging Voices and Periplus provide mentorship while organizations like Writing by Writers, Tin House, VONA, and regional writing organizations like Denver’s Lighthouse Writers, Chicago’s Story Studio, and Minneapolis’s Loft Literary offer workshops and other opportunities for growth. These opportunities for writers like me, writers who cannot choose between their fiscal responsibilities and an MFA, writers that have lived in the margins of our society, writers that can only make sense of their world with words on a page, have finally grown to accommodate us.

Adina continues to inspire me. To be a better writer, to use each moment to love, and to build a writing community in Colorado and beyond.



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