Archive for the ‘women's creativity’ Category
Book Review: Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine by Peggy Tabor Millin
Posted December 9, 2013on:
We cannot write well by staying on the surface of our lives or by attempting to hide our true selves behind our words. We free the pen to dig deep whenever we pick it up. Peggy Tabor Millin
What can women who wish to write discover about themselves if they enter into conversation with a nonlinear, archetypal feminine process? What is the wisdom and inner authority that awaits them in their own bodies, moving through perhaps limiting feelings of shame, blame and judgment? In the richly inspiring book Women, Writing and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine, Peggy Tabor Millin argues that what awaits women, if they so choose to explore, is their deepest self from which springs their writing life. And, she asserts that excavating this self is more important than the outward goal of publishing. Drawing on her extensive experience as a writing teacher, practicing Buddhist and cartographer of women’s cycles of creativity, she argues that the real struggle that many women have with writing is not just about a lack of time, writing space or support. It is the struggle for authenticity. Women’s multiplicity of social roles and living in a world that often undervalues them add to the challenges of finding the courage not just to write, but to create a worthy self. In Women, Writing and Soul Making, Millin offers a fresh and inner directed path to the writing life through what she calls an ‘archetypal feminine approach’ to writing and self-making.
Millin shares insights of how to access the subterranean territory of the writing experience that has seldom been mined. Many writing books crowding the shelves today assert principles, programs, and protocols for becoming a bestselling author with a platform that will entice agents and publishers. We can characterize much of this work as outer directed, active, assertive and perhaps linearly driven. Readers, in this book, will not find tidy exercises and chatty language about how to pitch ideas to editors. Millin, however, offers women writers (and male writing instructors) another way to think about the writing life by first acknowledging that women writers struggle with claiming a voice. She names and explores internal and external barriers that stop women from writing and from taking themselves seriously as writers. She argues that women must make new meaning for themselves by paying attention to what innate wisdom residing in their bodies and buried in their psyches, they (and the world) may have devalued.
She successfully yokes together concepts about women’s spirituality, Jungian and archetypal analysis and embodied learning. Her book is part of a growing trend that employ a contemplative and body wisdom approach, gleaned from eastern traditions, as a foundation for a writing practice, including Gail Sher’s Writing the Fire (yoga and writing) and Larraine Herring’s Writing Begins with the Breath (mindfulness and writing). Through vignettes, koans and stories Millin’s method is subtle and almost easy to overlook. The task is to move from our heads into our bodies, easier said than done. She reveals her technique of ‘Centered Writing Practice’ which includes two elements: “writing to neutral prompts and writing in community.” Neutral prompt are phrases, concrete nouns and active verbs that carry no obvious emotional connection for the writer. The writer follows where the language takes her. The second and important aspect of this practice is writing in community. Centered Writing Practice happens in a circle of women, regularly, and with focused attention. Each chapter begins with a piece that emerged from some of the free writes and ‘word circle’ exercises that Millin uses in groups. The reader is thus invited in to see how the book was constructed through many nonlinear techniques. The spiral graphic sprinkled throughout Women, Writing and Soul-Making remind us writing and coming into self has no final destination. Miller notes: “Practice does not make perfect; practice makes possible. Practice—of sport, writing, art-making, meditation, music—has no goal but revelation.”
Along the way, we meet Lord Mother, Millin’s contribution to an archetypal support system rooted in women’s experiences with the Divine, mystical, cyclical and seasonal. Millin helps us to recognize that our judgment, shame and victimization can be acknowledged without being indulged in, constituting a resting place versus a stopping place. Readers will also enjoy getting to know the intriguing archetypal figures of ‘Lady Underground’ and ‘The Blood-Raw Savage’ who can also support in getting to know our bodies’ wisdom and unconscious desires.
Although shunning simple and formulaic steps toward writing, Millin does offer organizing principles for writing and exploring consciousness that include the Four Wisdoms: ‘The Wisdom of Not Knowing’, ‘The Wisdom of the Ecology of Body and Earth’, ‘The Wisdom of Fierce Compassion’ and ‘The Wisdom of Diversity’. These Wisdoms explore what she identifies as feminine processes of ‘relationship and responsiveness’, an awareness of interconnectedness and fierce compassion that links soul work to creative work. Through these wisdoms she tackles many ‘hotspots’ of women’s lives including how we grapple with power, vulnerability, and expectations in relationships. This is a chapter most readers will want to linger in.
I was predisposed to like this book as I am intensely curious about how women navigate a creative life given the obstacles borne out of the social tensions around caretaking, relational work and constructing a core self. Finding new metaphors of creativity that don’t pit women against codified ways of knowing the world, their work and families is of vital importance. In my teaching and coaching work, I’ve found similar patterns of challenges that women face, in pursuing a creative life that is aptly described by Millin. And, Millin does a good job of arguing for exploring and being open to a repository of suppressed ‘women’s wisdom’: “Tribal cultures that honored women’s rhythms understood women to hold the creative future of the culture-not only because they produced children, but they fathomed the sacred nature of the cycles of creation.” However, in several places, I was uneasy with some of Millin’s uncritical language and assumptions about women’s experiences (including “when women feel stress, they are biologically wired to seek solace with other women” or “the power women innately hold confounds thought”). As I read, I felt the tension between embracing and feeling good about ‘feminine’ patterns and my understanding that gender is also mutable, historically varied and socially constructed. There isn’t one universal women’s experience or even ‘female ways of knowing’. Each reader will have to navigate and make sense of this tension.
Toward the end of the book and again drawing on Buddhist thought Millin makes use of the four paradoxes writers face: ‘Pleasure and Pain’, ‘Praise and Criticism’, ‘Fame and Disgrace’ and ‘Gain and Loss’. The dynamic of dualisms confound and often frustrate us yet form a way into understanding the writing life. I found myself lingering here, too.
Her book also addresses those writers who are transitioning from one type of writing that may be more analytical (i.e. technical writing, academic writing) to one that is symbolic and abstract (i.e. poetry). She wants a general respect for all writing. Despite the lack of specific exercises, Millin’s material will ignite an intuitive spark in each reader about how to proceed: some might journal more, some will try using ‘neutral prompts’ to begin a project, some might list the ways they experience societal femininity and how that is or isn’t congruent with their personal ways of knowing the creative cycles of the earth. Some will want to explore deeply the archetypal figures Millin presents. Some readers will be better able to recognize where some of their negative voices about writing came from (which are personal and which are cultural), some will feel relief to find that many women struggle with inner barriers that often go unrecognized; they might seek or start a writers’ group based on Millin’s thoughtful guidelines. According to Millin, if we get focused on our own excellence and joy in creating and living, this will support our inner most desires. I can see why this book was a Next Generation Indie Book Winner. It is so useful, innovative, playful and fresh that it is worth a place on every aspiring woman writer’s (and writing teacher’s) book shelf.
This book review first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Western North Carolina Woman
I was a guest on Joan Newcomb’s radio show ‘Mystic Musings’ on Wednesday, August 7. The topic was creativity and I discussed the top myths why people don’t create, how to get creativity to flow more easily, why creativity operates like a code and how creativity saved my life. About twenty minutes in, I also discuss how people can become part of ‘The Creative Tickle’ community and the free gifts that I’m giving away. We went deep and I think you’ll enjoy the interview!
I remember anxiety creeping over me in Marjorie Hudson’s ‘Strategies for the Writing Life’ workshop when she cheerfully asked the group to name and claim our writing ‘accomplishments’ so far. People immediately raised their hands and asked questions like: Do you mean publication credits? How far back can we start our list? Does a personalized rejection letter count? What if I can’t think of anything?
She calmly explained that we could count anything and everything that has happened in our writing lives that we believe strengthened or encouraged us. This could include the time our teacher in the third grade chose to read our essay in front of the class to submitting an op-ed to getting a poem published in a literary journal. Our list could include helpful feedback we received from an editor or agent (even if they passed on the book), or reassuring words from a published writer. Most of us undertook the task with a kind of grim determination. And, I felt that I was bound to have a short and uninteresting list.
After about ten minutes, she asked us to read from our lists. The mood in the room softened as people shared. As it turns out until we were asked to reflect on the shape of our writing lives, most of us had either forgotten or discounted many of the positive things that had shown up. Several people did mention publication as an aspect of their accomplishments, but much of it included specific moments of encouragement expressed by peers, teachers and other published writers. Often words of encouragement allowed us to keep going in the face of high self-doubt and flat out fear. We also celebrated the fact that many of us had completed various types of writing projects and with some additional strategic effort, some might eventually find their way into publication. My list included the over 50 journals I have amassed, over my life, that are stuffed with ideas, dream fragments, stories, and chapters of novels. Hearing the lists of the other writers uplifted and inspired me.
Since that workshop in the spring of 2011, I have often gone back to the list in my notebook as well as the longer ‘accomplishments’ list that I keep on my computer. Some of the writers in that workshop posted their list in their writing space for daily inspiration.
It is easy to forget or minimize the ways in which the writing life is sustained. A list is evidence of one’s deep intentions that we can turn toward during moments of skepticism about our progress.
It is atypical that a writer gets anything published during a normal week and highly unlikely that more than one thing gets published. The first two weeks of April have been exceptionally good to me, so I’ve got new things to add to my list.
I received news that I am the 3rd place prize winner in the Carolina Woman Magazine Writing Contest, for my speculative fiction short story ‘Urban Wendy’. They will publish the piece in an upcoming issue.
For fun, I’ve included a few lines from the beginning of the story:
Marisol pulls another strand of red hair from a perfectly glazed Dunkin Donut, holds it up and looks at the stray bits of delicate pink icing clinging to the hair. Marisol reminds herself that her other team members working this shift don’t have red hair, nor does anyone else working here. Just like the icing clinging to the hair, Marisol knows that Wendy is trying to cling to her.
When Marisol announced she was leaving Wendy’s to work at Dunkin Donuts, two weeks ago, her co-workers warned her.
“Expect a visit from Wendy,” they said. Marisol looked at the goofy-looking freckled girl on the napkins she had passed out so many times to snot-nosed kids, harried mothers and dope addicts.
“She doesn’t like it when we leave without warning,” one of them whispered.
“You gotta to be kidding me. I’ll tell her a thing or two,” Marisol said. She filed their concerns of Wendy the phantom stalker, under ‘another urban legend’ and said good bye to the drab brown uniform, the never ending work of keeping the salad bar clean and organized, and sought her fortune among coffee and donuts.
* * *
A prose piece, ‘The Poison Our Grandmothers and Mothers Drank’ that I wrote in 2010 found a perfect home at Trivia: Voices of Feminism, an online magazine. This piece was created for the wonderful ‘Vision and Voice’ event at the Joyful Jewel gallery (in Pittsboro, North Carolina), where writers are invited to write about art. Then the writer gets to read the piece and the artist attends, too, and remarks about the inspiration behind the art.
Sharon Blessum’s photograph (below) triggered a memory about a powerful dream regarding my grandmother and other female elders that I wrestled with for many years. In the piece, I tackle the metaphorical ‘poison’, given societal constraints, that many of our female ancestors swallowed, and how I integrate this knowledge into my work as a professor and coach.
Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934- November 17,1992)
Today is Audre Lorde’s birthday! Audre Lorde was an essayist, poet and activist who referred to herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,”. Audre Lorde’s work has shaped and inspired two generations of writers, scholars, and activists. Lorde produced several volumes of poetry and created new directions in nonfiction with her untraditional memoir (Zami, A New Spelling of My Name), but she was not only a famous poet, she was also one of the most compelling black feminists of the past century. The topics she chose to write about broke open taboos on race, class, the role of ‘difference’ in the second wave women’s movement, breast cancer, sexuality, eroticism, marginality, and the necessity of theorizing about the interlocking nature of oppression. The body of her work has left a legacy for all those concerned with social justice.
I discovered her in college as a budding feminist thinker. I was deeply influenced by feminist literary theory and contemporary women authors. I found her work useful as she helped to redirect second wave feminist organizing to focus on the strength that is found in differences among women as opposed to believing in a mythical norm of the ‘universal woman’. At that time, I was finding my own voice at Bard College and involved in activism on campus (e.g. reproductive rights and fighting for ‘multicultural education’) and interested in feminist theorizing.
At the beginning of my senior year, I organized a group of friends to attend one of Audre Lorde’s final public appearances. Audre Lorde helped to a create conference called ‘Yo Soy Hermana/I Am Your Sister’. It was held in Boston. It called upon second wave (and budding third wave) feminists to come together to strategize, celebrate and develop new skills in feminist coalition building and action given the challenges young women and men faced globally (i.e. poverty, HIV/AIDS, repression of LGBT communities, sexual violence, etc.). My young female friends, all of us of diverse and multiracial backgrounds, found ourselves in a larger feminist and womanist community than we hadn’t dared imagine (or could imagine at Bard–a predominately white, private, liberal arts college). There were over 1000 activists in attendance from over 20 countries. The two days were packed with workshops, keynotes, plenaries, readings, and impromptu gatherings. During the conference, I felt that symbolically a baton was being passed from Lorde and other feminist elders to us in the audience. We were inheritors of the many benefits that Lorde and others had struggled for, yet, we still faced a world that was still fraught with inequality. What would we do with our knowledge and burgeoning power?
Her work inspired me to go on to graduate school. I felt a deep urgency to bring new voices and new ways of knowing into the academy, especially those from historically marginalized communities. I was eager to continue studying how feminist theory challenged typical assumptions about everyday social patterns that seemed ‘natural’. Everyone at Bard did the equivalent of an honors thesis, called the ‘Senior Project’. The tools and theory-building skills I acquired in my classes prepared me to write a senior project on the evolution of rape law reform of the 1970s and 1980s. In my graduate school applications, I quoted Lorde, “In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
Those words resonated deeply with me because I felt that coalition building and self-definition were the building blocks of feminist theory and could be applied to both research and activism. It’s a quote that still remains a guiding star in my life.
It’s only been in the last few years that I have come to appreciate the other gift that Lorde offered which is that she claimed everything about her—emotions, intellect, all forms of creative writing, activism and theory. She fought to live her life holistically and self-defined. As I have, over the past several years, been intentional about making more space for a scholarly *and* creative life, I find her example life affirming.
I hope you put Audre Lorde on your reading list this year either as a new reader or as someone rediscovering her work.
Poetry: The Black Unicorn (1978)
Memoir: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (1982)
Essays: Sister Outsider (1984)
Scholarship: I am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde (2009)
This post originally appeared on She Writes
Posted September 16, 2012on:
Hi! My Sunday Surprise includes tidbits gathered from here and there. Soon I will return to my longer posts, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy this interlude.
-I’m now on Twitter and loving every moment of it. I’m reconnecting with teachers and alums from 1996 Clarion East, a science fiction and fantasy writers’ summer intensive, that I attended! Come find me @MicheleTBerger
-Visual artists trick our brains all the time in how we perceive light and color. This article on CNN.com explores what neuroscience is teaching us about how we perceive art.
-I gave a workshop, ‘Are You a Wooer or Withholder? What’s Your Creative Relationship Style?’ a few weeks ago for the ‘Sisters In Crime’ writers’ group in Raleigh. One of the prompts I gave them was to imagine that an adoptions worker comes to interview them on their capacity to “adopt the creative”(based on Deena Metzger’s work). Judy Hogan, farmer, co-founder of Carolina Wren Press and newly minted mystery author attended the workshop and just posted a dialogue between her and the adoptions worker. You might want to try the exercise and then read Judy’s engaging response.
-Feel like you’ve lost that loving feeling with your Muse? Brenda Moquez’s quirky and funny dialogue with her Muse might give you some ideas about how to court yours!
-Very compelling post by Kate Elliot on the male gaze, the female gaze, and women’s sexualized portrayals in fantasy and science fiction novels.
-A thought about persistence. Yesterday, after an all-day faculty retreat I got to the gym as planned so that I could exercise as a reward. Well, I quickly realized that in my early morning haste, I had forgotten to pack my sneakers. I also had to be somewhere else within an hour and knew that if I didn’t work out during my allotted time, it wasn’t going to happen later. So, although I felt a bit silly, I changed into my workout clothes and grabbed my patent blue wedge shoes (the only shoes with me), and walked with my head held high, barefoot, into the gym’s workout area. I picked up a few magazines and sat down at one of the recumbent bike stations, put on my shoes and began my thirty minute workout. Yes, I felt a bit silly as people walked by and looked at me pedaling away in my nice shoes. However, it was more important for me to be true to my fitness goals then let a little thing like shoes stop me. This incident made me think of writing. It is so easy to get off our game if one little thing goes wrong during our scheduled writing time. It could be that we’re out our special tea, or the pen we love has just gone dry. Or, that we have an interruption that we have to attend to. And, we can feel silly and out of sorts that we have to make do with our sometimes ‘less than perfect’ writing life. But, if we remind ourselves that our larger goal of consistent writing practice is so much more important than fleeting frustration when things don’t go as planned, we just might find ourselves able to persevere and receive a greater payoff in the long run.
(Photo Credit: these shoes look a lot like the ones that I wore while pedaling. http://www.shopoloriswank.com/product/patent-blue-gucci-wedge)
Guest Post by Fi Phillips
Most writers will have heard of how the seed of the creation that became Frankenstein came into being. In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, their son and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont spent the summer near Geneva in Switzerland. Holidaying with them were the poet Lord Byron and his doctor John William Polidori. At this point, Mary was calling herself Mary Shelley although she would not marry Percy until later that year after the suicide of his wife.
Renting villas close to Lake Geneva, this should have been a summer of boating and sunshine but Mary Shelley wrote that,
‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer… and incessant rain often confined us for days in the house’.
Conversation turned to the experiments of Erasmus Darin in his attempts to re-animate dead matter, and ghost stories, the group often talking late into the night. It was Byron who suggested that they write their own supernatural stories.
In what Mary called, ‘a waking dream’, she came upon the idea for ‘Frankenstein’. At first, she thought it would be a short story but with Percy’s encouragement she expanded her idea into the novel we now know, published in 1818.
Mary was never going to be a follower of the norm. Both of her unorthodox parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were philosophers and writers. Her mother died when Mary was only days old but she cherished her mother’s memory, her writings and her lifestyle. This individuality and following of her heart (and her creativity) has always drawn me to the character of Mary Shelley.
At a time when the majority of formally published authors were men, Mary published her novel anonymously. It was assumed that as this was not a story of romance and the interior sphere of the home the author must be male. The fact that Percy wrote the novel’s preface and dedicated the book to his hero (Mary’s father) William Godwin caused many to believe that Mary’s husband was the author. The novel was received well and viewed as an intellectual piece of writing rather than a horror novel.
Mary was a strong, individual woman who would carve out a career in writing, eventually being recognised as the author of Frankenstein although it was not the only novel she wrote, or indeed her only piece of writing. After her husband’s death, she would hold fast to her writing as a means to support herself and her son, editing her husband’s poetry, writing her novels, assisting friends in writing their memoirs and other literary endeavours.
Mary Shelley has always been an inspiration to me in her individuality, her strength as a mother, her refusal to succumb to society’s judgements, and her commitment to her writing. Intelligent and forward thinking, she created many works but her novel Frankenstein would produce a figure of stage, screen, comedy and tragedy, bridging the divide between the canon and popular fiction. Mary Shelley would be remembered.
Fi Phillips is a mum and wife, and currently writes murder mystery plays
for her small business Murdering The Text. She is a literature graduate,
originally from York but currently living in North Wales.
For many years, she worked in an office environment until the arrival of
her two children robbed her of her short term memory and sent her hurtling
down a new, often bumpy, creative path. Writing is her passion and she
finds that getting the words down on paper is the best way to keep the
creative muse out of her shower.
(Photo Credit Wikipedia)
Guest Post by Heidi Moore
I’ve just fallen into literary love with a writer I assumed was brand new, Edith Pearlman.When I finished reading her short story, “Tess,” I put down my iPad and sat still for a moment with the intense feeling it left me. It’s a difficult sensation to describe to those who haven’t yet learned to love the short story. The sensation feels as though an important truth about one corner of the whole world has been encapsulated in an exquisite, but simple, jewel that I have just held in my hands, and I want to know how it is possible the author could have constructed something so precious there.
Anyone who wants to know how to write, or even read, a short story would wisely begin with Pearlman. One reason her stories are so remarkable is Pearlman writes amazing sentences; these are sentences that tell a story as much as the plot itself conveys meaning. For instance, in “Rules,” Donna, a woman who works at the day-shelter, hands Ollie, a mother, diapers. Donna knows she urgently needs them; as soon as she hands them to Ollie, she knows that a couple of diapers cannot possibly fill the gulf of need, so then she just hands Ollie the whole box. The narrator explains: “Donna gave Ollie both money and Pampers, and was rewarded by a mammoth embrace that made her grin—it was so easy, so emphatic, so momentarily sincere, so ultimately meaningless” (190). Within a single sentence, we understand the subtleties of an emotionally complex transaction that another writer might take a paragraph to describe.
For those of us who want to emulate Pearlman, it is important to know that this kind of writing does not happen in an afternoon: Great sentences are hard won. Pearlman told interviewer Daniel Jaffee of BiblioBuffet, “Each short story takes several weeks (five days a week, about four hours a day) to write, in many, many drafts, all on the typewriter. The nth draft then marinates in a drawer while I work on the next story or piece. [...] So each story takes about a month and a half in total time.” I will post this timeline near my computer, so I remember not to rush my creative process so much. Pearlman is a great example.
Pearlman’s plots are also worthy to emulate. “Tess,” a first-person account from the point of view of the mother of a severely disabled two year-old child in the hospital on life support is complex. The mother describes circumstances around Tess’s birth and her own life difficulties: “When I had to leave the Sea View a month before the baby because of some law about lifting and stuff, Billie said not to worry. I could come back whenever I was ready” (95). In alternate passages she describes the services Tess requires from her many different health care providers: “[H]er friends know she cannot hear, but they talk to her anyway, for to see faces in action, lips moving, is instructive for Tess, according to the neuro-audiologist” (97). The action leads up to our being convinced that Tess’s mom is a deeply caring parent, who, though she may not be well educated, is doing the best she can to advocate for a daughter who may not have much hope of recovering. Pearlman is masterful at developing the roomful of characters who manage Tess’s care, and at building tension; plainly, Tess is going to die. What is not clear is what will be resolution of the story when the mother goes to the windowsill to retrieve the toy she thinks is Tess’s favorite: “The red floppy dog. They always forgot it. I put it in a corner of the crib.Then I unscrewed the end of the heart tube from the aqua clothespin and slipped it under the blanket so the blood would pool quiet and invisible like a monthly until there would be no more left” (105). It is an emotional ending, but one that causes the reader a genuine heart-stopping moment, a mixture of grief, disturbance, and relief.
This precise feeling brought me immediately back to the title page of Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, and I wondered how I could have missed being a fan of this writer who has been publishing award-winning literary fiction for three decades. Then I knew I wanted to share her with everyone I could. What better occasion than Women’s History Month?
Just this month, on March 8, 2012, Pearlman’s short story collection won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction. Binocular Vision also won the 2011 PEN/Malamud prize for outstanding short fiction and was nominated last fall for the National Book Awards. Individual stories have won numerous awards in the past as well.
Edith Pearlman is a true gem, a woman writer worth modeling oneself on.
Jaffee, Daniel. “Talking Across the Table. Edith Pearlman: An Interview.” (11-13-2011). BiblioBuffet.com. http://www.bibliobuffet.com/archive-index-talking-across-the-table/365-edith-pearlman-an-interview. (3-15-2012).
Pearlman, Edith; Ann Patchett (2011-01-11). Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories (p. 190). Lookout Books. Kindle Edition. (3-16-12).
Pearlman, Edith reading at the 2011 National Book Foundation Awards.
Heidi R. Moore
Heidi R. Moore is a writer and artist, a former college writing and literature professor who is now working on a memoir and painting watercolor and acrylic paintings. She also writes a blog, http://heidiwriting.wordpress.com
Heidi went to the Goddard College MFA writing program, where she studied with Mark Doty, She earned a Ph.D. in American Studies, with an emphasis in Film and American Popular Culture.
(Photo Credit: http://www.edithpearlman.com/index.htm)
I am so honored to welcome writer Ann Wicker to The Practice of Creativity. I met Ann through my writing teacher Marjorie Hudson. Marjorie gave a workshop at the Weathers Creek Writing Series located on a beautiful farm in Iredell county, NC and I attended her session. Ann co-founded this series that brings writers together in an intimate setting. I’ve gotten to know Ann through her witty blog, ‘That’s All, She Wrote’. Today she gives us a glimpse into the life of Mildred Wirt Benson, ghostwriter of the Nancy Drew series and prolific creator.
Even voracious readers of mysteries probably don’t know the name Mildred Wirt Benson. She was a journalist and author whose work included more than 130 books and countless contributions to magazines and newspapers.
Her first story was published when she was 14, and she went on to help defray college costs at what was then the State University of Iowa by selling short stories. She became the first woman to be awarded a master’s degree in journalism from the same institution in 1927.
But her most famous work was, for many years, anonymous. Although Edward Stratemeyer created the idea of Nancy Drew, a bright young woman who solved mysteries, it was writer Benson who brought the character to life in the first 23 books. Stratemeyer, as part of the process of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, created characters and outlines for the various series and then hired freelance writers to actually write the books. Versions of these characters remain popular, including the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Tom Swift and others. Her role was revealed when she testified in a 1980 court proceeding about the books produced by the syndicate.
But Benson was also more than just a ghostwriter for Stratemeyer. She wrote different types of books, both fiction and nonfiction – and she remained curious about the world all her life. After that first story, she never stopped writing until she died in 2002 at 96.
When I was young, I loved the stories of Nancy and her pals. She drove a roadster, she was curious, and her dad was great. As Melanie Rehak says in her book Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, “The trick to this is that she does it all in the name of rising to a challenge, a quality that most people wish they had but can only hope to approximate.”
Nancy’s self-reliance was something to aspire to – and Mildred Wirt Benson, through her writing and her life, showed many of us the way.
– Ann Wicker
Writer and editor Ann Wicker was in the newspaper and magazine business for many years. A graduate of Davidson College, she also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte.
Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas was an idea she took to Novello Festival Press. This nonfiction anthology features stories and essays about the rich legacy of music in North and South Carolina.
Wicker is co-founder of the Weathers Creek Writers’ Series, which offers one-day writing workshops in a log cabin in Cleveland, NC.
In addition, she works with individual writers as an editor and coach. She has been a presenter at the South Carolina Book Festival and the Southern Festival of Books. Her work has appeared in Creative Loafing, SouthPark, Charlotte, Lake Norman Magazine and elsewhere.
(Photocredits from the following sources University of Iowa Library’s Special Collections, Mildred Wirt Benson website)