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Affirmations-366Days#175: I make a  literary pilgrimage as a purposeful act of devotion.

For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

In a few days I will travel to London for both work and pleasure. I’m super excited. The last time I visited London was 25 years ago, right before I started graduate school. How time flies! Unfortunately, the last time I was there I didn’t get a chance to explore much of London’s great literary history. That won’t happen this time. I can’t wait to walk the same streets of Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf and be immersed in their specific histories.  My upcoming trip reminded me of the importance of making literary pilgrimages, hence my affirmation. Pilgrimages are purposeful trips meant to show devotion and help foster insight and gratitude. Making a pilgrimage in service of our creativity is fortifying. My trip also reminded me of a post that I wrote on this topic in 2014. Below, I share the powerful experience I had of taking my first literary pilgrimage to learn about the remarkable Harriet Jacobs, escaped slave and author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

 

Tips for Writing at Mid-Year: Make a Literary Pilgrimage

I decided to use a recent visit by my godsons as motivation to make a literary pilgrimage to visit the town of Edenton, NC where Harriet Ann Jacobs lived and made her escape from slavery. Harriet Jacobs wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself originally published under the pseudonym Linda Brent in 1861. I read about her remarkable life in college and have been fascinated with her story ever since.

A literary pilgrimage can take many forms. It can mean a visit to a deceased writer’s home or estate, or a walk about their favorite town or city, exploring places that were important to them. It can be refreshing to take a break from your writing routine and connect with a writer that you admire by visiting places that shaped them.

Not all literary pilgrimages are arduous, but this one had elements of difficulty. My partner Tim and I were going to begin our trip with our godsons (visiting from Minnesota), by first going to Edenton and then ending up on Ocracoke Island. When I initially called the Historic Edenton Visitor Center to arrange a tour, I discovered that they would be closed on the first leg of our trip. And, I also discovered that only certain docents conducted the Harriet Jacobs tour and work on certain days. So we rearranged our trip so that we could get there later in the week, thus ending our sightseeing in Edenton before heading home.  A few days into the trip, I called a second time to arrange a tour.

During this call, the person explained that the main ‘Harriet Jacobs docent’ was out on vacation, but perhaps another person who occasionally did the tour could fill in. But, the person on the phone sounded skeptical that this other docent was going to be available.  She said that there were materials available for a self-guided tour.  I thought OK, we’ll just show up and do the self-guided tour. Not ideal, but doable.

The afternoon we arrived in Edenton, we were tired and it was already close to 90 degrees. This the last leg of our trip after watching wild ponies in Ocracoke, seeing the Lost Colony play in Roanoke, and feeling the exuberance of invention at the Wright Brothers’ exhibit in Kitty Hawk. It also looked as if it was going to rain which made me doubt everyone’s willingness to do a self-guided tour.

We were in luck, however, for when we arrived at the Visitor Center, we were met by an older woman named ‘Miss Carolyn’ (a native of Edenton), and she graciously walked with us and gave us a thorough 90 minute tour. Although not the primary docent on Harriet Jacobs, she was a great resource and an enthusiastic guide.

The brief story about Harriet Jacobs goes as follows: Although they were enslaved, the Jacobs family had a great deal of relative freedom in the small town of Edenton. Her father was an accomplished carpenter, her grandmother, a well-known cook. After her mother’s death, Harriet went to live in the home of her owner Margaret Horniblow; Margaret taught her how to sew and read. It was assumed by Harriet and her family that Horniblow would emancipate her. Unfortunately, this was not the case and Harriet and her younger brother found themselves in the home of Mr. Norcom (there seems to be some historical evidence that Mr. Norcom somehow interfered with  Horniblow’s wishes and/or will). Mr. Norcum became obsessed with young Harriet and made many sexual advances on her. At the time it was common that enslaved women were often sexually brutalized by any white man that lived on the plantation (or off).

After dealing with this terrible situation for several years and trying other remedies (including beginning a liaison with Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, an unmarried, powerful white lawyer and future US Congressman), Harriet ran away and went into hiding. She first hid in the homes of friends, in nearby ‘Snaky Swamp’ and later in the home of her grandmother Molly. Harriet hid in her grandmother’s small attic above a storeroom for six years and eleven months. Norcom continued to search for her and briefly jailed her children (children from the liaison with Sawyer), her brother and an aunt hoping to flush her out. She successfully escaped in 1842 and made a life in New York. Norcom and other members of his family continued to search for her.

She was able to buy her children’s freedom and became prominent in the abolition movement. She completed Incidents in 1858. She had bad luck initially as two book publishers who acquired the book both went out of business before it came to print.

Harriet purchased the plates of her book and had it printed in 1861. This endeavor I imagine cost a small fortune. I had forgotten that self-publishing options were often a route for disenfranchised people to make their voices heard. She published it originally under a pseudonym as to protect the living members of her family still in slavery.

We were able to visit the church that Harriet and her family attended, the jail where her family members were imprisoned and the harbor where she escaped as part of the Underground Railroad.

IMG_4171

 

We also walked and looked at places where houses once stood that Harriet hid in. The property of the Visitor Center has created a replica of Molly’s attic where Harriet hid.

IMG_9976

 

She was able to sit up, but could not stand up. She had a small peep hole to look out of and the entire area was about 11 feet long, 4 feet wide and 3 feet high. Her grandmother would bring her food and occasionally she could come down, but the majority of the time was spent there. I can’t imagine the ways in which Harriet had to keep her mind occupied. Amazing.

My eldest godson Andrew, who is 14, had read the book last year for class, so he knew many of the details. It was so nice to share a piece of history with them.

10559502_10204383983419127_878594408_o

 

The power of the word is remarkable and has often been used to fight injustice. I felt truly moved walking around Edenton and thinking about Harriet. If any of her family members’ graves had been marked, I would have left something on them as an offering, but unfortunately that was not the case. I have only scratched the surface in recounting the highlights of the life of Harriet Jacobs. For more, read Incidents in Life of a Slave Girl, and visit this site.

I’d love to hear if you’ve gone on a literary pilgrimage or are planning one.

Woo-hoo! A few weeks ago I did a cover reveal about my story that is in UnCommon Origins.

uncommonorigins

It’s now really here. The UnCommon Origins anthology launched this week and I am thrilled! Get it here!

UnCommon Origins: A Collection of Gods, Monsters, Nature, and Science

UnCommon Origins presents 22 depictions of moments on the precipice, beginnings both beautiful and tragic. Fantastical stories of Creation, Feral Children, Gods and Goddesses (both holy and horrific), and possibilities you never dared imagine come to life.

allthephotos

Including stories from some of the most talented Speculative Fiction and Magical Realism authors around, UnCommon Origins will revisit the oldest questions in the universe:

Where did we come from?
and
What comes next?

We even have our own book trailer!

My story, ‘The Curl of Emma Jean’ is about two sisters, race, fairies and the God Faunus. What more could you ask for?

curlofemmajeantext

 

My writing buddy, Fraser Sherman gave a thoughtful (and positive) review of the collection on his excellent blog. We already have over 50 reviews on Amazon! It’s also trending in the horror anthology Amazon category.

For three months, our publisher P.K. Tyler has been working on promotion and also teaching myself and the other 21 authors about how to launch a book. I’ve learned so much and I can’t wait to share some of my insights with you in another post.

If you like speculative fiction, you’ll enjoy this collection. It’s got something for everyone. Get it here.

Also, if you’re willing to provide an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or your blog, within the next two weeks, contact me about getting a complimentary copy.

In other news, last weekend I attended the historic State of Black Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta. It was a mind-blowing experience. SOBSFC brought together creators from different mediums (e.g. filmmakers, comic book artists, writers, producers, scholars, etc.,) to converge, discuss and share about the world of sci-fi and the Black experience over the past two centuries. There were panels on everything from Afrofuturism in Arts and Culture to Black Southern Folklore in Horror Literature.

I even dipped my toe into SteamFunk cosplay for the first time ever. Loved it!

steamfunk

I plan on writing a blog post about attending this transformative con.

June is my birthday month and with this book launch and conference, it’s been a fantastic one so far. I hope your June has been offering you writerly goodness.

 

Affirmations-366Days#30: I actively name, claim and exclaim my writing aspirations.
For new readers, here’s why I’m committing to writing affirmations, about the creative process, during the next 366 days.

I am over the moon at finding Kiara Collins’s wonderful post on Octavia Butler’s recently discovered personal journal. This post was sent to me last night by my gifted writer teacher and friend, Melissa Delbridge. Octavia Butler was the first successful African American female speculative fiction writer. She wrote many highly acclaimed novels and was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur Genius award. Her pioneering books explore the legacies of race, class and gender, and the challenges of independence and interdependence in human relationships. She is one of my favorite authors. I’ve written about the use of her term ‘positive obsessions’.

 

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And, as it turns out she used AFFIRMATIONS to help her imagine and embody her success as a writer. As someone who thought I knew a lot about her work, I was stunned by this revelation. I knew of her struggles, as an African American woman, to become a speculative fiction writer during a time when that was almost unthinkable. I also teach her wonderful essay, ‘Positive Obsession’ (from Bloodchild and Other Stories), where she chronicles her almost crippling self-doubt and ruminates over the sexism and racism that she faced in the 1960s and 1970s. But, I had no idea that she as Ms. Collins notes “literally wrote herself into existence” using affirmations. This is such an important confirmation about the power of affirmations. If you’ve been reading this blog since January, then you know that I’ve made a commitment to post one affirmation related to writing and/or creative practice every day for the entire year. I believe it will support my writing practice and experience of myself as a writer. I want it to be a fun and uplifting project and also helpful to others. Affirmations can provide mental and emotional support as we move toward our goals.

Here is her list of affirmations written on the back of her notebook:

octavia_butler_note

 

Looking at her list, a few things strike me about how she used affirmations:

They are written in the present tense. It’s helpful to reinforce that what we want is happening now.

They are handwritten. There is power in slowing down and writing by hand when playing with affirmations. Science tells us that different parts of our brain are activated when we write by hand.

She uses repetition. When writing affirmations, it’s helpful to use repetition. Most of the time, we’re trying to release deep seated negative mental patterns and so writing a powerful statement over and over is helpful.

She wanted her success to contribute to others. Several of Butler’s affirmations involved supporting African American young people. Our success should ripple out and positively impact others.

I hope you’ll add affirmations to your writing and/or creative toolkit in 2016.

See Kiara Collins’ post here.

Powerful. Dynamic. Tender. Truth-teller. In my first few interactions with Dr. Laurie Cannady, all these words went through my mind. We were suitemates this August at The Room of Her Own Foundation writing residency. We have several overlapping interests including academe, the health and well-being of African American girls and women and creative writing. Throughout the residency, we would stay up late into the night talking about books and life. I felt lucky that I got to spend so much time with her. I was thrilled to discover that Laurie’s new memoir Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul was being published this year. I shared with her my observation that there are too few memoirs written by women of color. I believe it is vital that women of color write about the context of our lives. When she read, during her allotted three minutes provided for each participant, the audience was entranced by the rhythm and power of her words. It was an unforgettable reading, marked by a standing ovation.

Dr. Cannady has published an array of articles and essays on poverty in America, community and domestic violence, and women’s issues. She has also spoken against sexual assault in the military at West Point. Her new memoir, Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul debuts in November with Etruscan Press. Dr. Cannady has as MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I’m delighted to welcome Laurie Cannady to The Practice of Creativity.

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-Tell us about your new book Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul. What inspired this book?

Crave: Sojourn of a Hungry Soul is a coming-of-age memoir that chronicles a young girl’s journey through abuse and impoverishment. The effusive narration descends into the depths of personal and sexual degradation, perpetual hunger for food, safety and survival. While moving through gritty exposés of poverty, abuse, and starvation, Crave renders a continuing search for sustenance that simply will not die.

-What is your biggest hope for Crave as it meets readers?

My hope is that it will resonate with those who, like myself, have had to journey through one difficult situation after another, those who don’t always feel like they have a tight enough grasp on hope, but they work toward a healing anyway because they know there is a way out of the mess.

-While you were writing Crave, were there authors that you mined for inspiration?cannady03-210

I read so many books while crafting Crave. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls served as a constant source of inspiration. I especially focused on the way in which her narrative moved across space and time. Rigoberto Gonzalez’s Butterfly Boy made me brave as I told my story and the stories of those who shared life with me. His honesty kept me honest and he demonstrated the skill it takes to weave a narrative that includes the voices of family members and friends. I revisited several times Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, studying his voice and the way in which he depicted the tragedies he and his family faced. His lyric voice made some of the most painful scenes palatable.

– How do you handle the moments when you have to write a painful scene?

Oftentimes, I’ll put on music, songs that remind me of the scene I’m writing. The process of writing painful scenes is especially meditative for me. I try to place myself back in that situation so that I can write from the POV of who I was then, not as the woman I am now. (That comes during the revision process.) I usually have to be alone and I need silence. During really tough scenes, I ask my husband to check in on me in about an hour or so, just to make sure I’m not going too far and too deep. There have been times that I just needed him to hold me after the writing. His embrace reminds me that I’m not in that situation anymore and I am in a safe place. There were some scenes where that writing seeped into my waking world or into my dreams. For that reason, I have people in my life with whom I can share my fears and sadness. Much like a child, “it takes a village” to raise a memoir!

-What’s next to your bed (or in your Kindle)? What are you reading now?

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. While writing memoir, I think it’s important to practice self-care. Full Catastrophe Living not only reminds me of that, but it also gives me the tools to do so.

-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write a page every day, no matter what, and don’t be afraid to allow your narrative to reveal things to you. When I first began writing memoir, I thought I had to write everything, as accurately as I could remember, to some self-imposed end. It took years to realize that my narrative had its own end and its own way in which it wanted to be relayed. So, writing a page a day was a relief. I allowed the scenes to unfold as they pleased and once that writing was done, I was able to shape all that I had written into Crave.

 

Laurie Jean Cannady is a professor of English at Lock Haven University, where she spends much of her time encouraging students to realize their true potential. She is a consummate champion of women’s issues, veterans’ issues, and issues affecting underprivileged youth. Cannady resides in central Pennsylvania with Chico Cannady and their three children.

Find out more about Laurie Cannady here.

Checkout Crave’s amazing book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFKPiUSQqBY#action=share

 

 

This has been a good week for celebrating women artists; both their individual and collective achievements.

Not having a community of supportive peers and not seeing yourself represented in artistic expression is something many creative women face*. She Writes and Misty Copeland remind us of the importance of community, perseverance and staying true to one’s vision, even in the face of bias.

Six years ago, writer and visionary Kamy Wicoff began She Writes (with Deborah Siegel), as an online home for women writers to understand “the rapidly changing, head-spinningly complex world of publishing.” They felt that “women writers in particular–needed a place to come together to share what they were learning, be inspired, and gather information about the craft and the business of writing.” As she has said recently, they “created what they most needed.” They began with 40 members and now have 26,000 enthusiastic members around the world. They are the largest community of women writers online. Both emerging and well-established writers find She Writes to be a thriving and significant hub.

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During the past six years, Kamy and her team have worked hard to demystify publishing and empower women to value their words and develop confidence in taking those words into the publishing marketplace.  She Writes has grown up alongside the increasing acknowledgement by many that there are gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture (see VIDA: Women in Literary Arts for research and history).

Membership to SW is free. I discovered it almost four years ago and have found it to be a treasure trove of resources, intelligent discussion and incredible writerly support. On SW, you can blog, network and join over 360 groups representing every aspect of writing and publishing imaginable including ‘Mothers Write!’ ‘Funny Women’, ‘Authors of Interracial/Multicultural Romance and Fiction’, ‘Literary Fiction Writers v. 2.0’, ‘Google Analytics’, ‘Prompt Monster’, ‘You Go Girl Poetry’, etc. I’m a member of the groups ‘Blooming Late’ (women who started writing seriously after the age of 40) and ‘What Did You Blog About Today?’.

Kamy and her amazing team has also recently ventured into publishing and created She Writes Press. Their mission is to elevate the words and stories of women and offer a new model of publishing. Check them out!

Keep up the great work, She Writes!

 

African American ballet dancer Misty Copeland was recently promoted to principal ballerina at American Ballet Theatre. A historic accomplishment and long overdue. Copeland persevered. This recent honor speaks to her extraordinary personal accomplishment, but also her courage in calling attention to the unspoken biases about body size, stereotyping and race that have shaped the world of American ballet.

mistycopeland

Only nine years ago, I remember clipping and ruminating on the article “Where Are All the Black Swans?” in the New York Times. The article highlights how class and race bias show up in the ballet world, from early schooling to professional opportunities. It is very hard to accomplish something creative if you can’t envision it and envision someone who looks like you succeeding at it. Misty Copeland’s dedication to the craft of ballet and her own vision will have ripple effects for many aspiring, young female dancers, especially girls from underrepresented groups.

 

Photo of Misty Copeland: Henry Leutwyler

Tip 6: Make a literary pilgrimage

I decided to use a recent visit by my godsons as motivation to make a literary pilgrimage to visit the town of Edenton, NC where Harriet Ann Jacobs lived and made her escape from slavery. Harriet Jacobs wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself originally published under the pseudonym Linda Brent in 1861. I read about her remarkable life in college and have been fascinated with her story ever since.

A literary pilgrimage can take many forms. It can mean a visit to a deceased writer’s home or estate, or a walk about their favorite town or city, exploring places that were important to them. It can be refreshing to take a break from your writing routine and connect with a writer that you admire by visiting places that shaped them.

Not all literary pilgrimages are arduous, but this one had elements of difficulty. My partner Tim and I were going to begin our trip with our godsons (visiting from Minnesota), by first going to Edenton and then ending up on Ocracoke Island. When I initially called the Historic Edenton Visitor Center to arrange a tour, I discovered that they would be closed on the first leg of our trip. And, I also discovered that only certain docents conducted the Harriet Jacobs tour and work on certain days. So we rearranged our trip so that we could get there later in the week, thus ending our sightseeing in Edenton before heading home.  A few days into the trip, I called a second time to arrange a tour.

During this call, the person explained that the main ‘Harriet Jacobs docent’ was out on vacation, but perhaps another person who occasionally did the tour could fill in. But, the person on the phone sounded skeptical that this other docent was going to be available.  She said that there were materials available for a self-guided tour.  I thought OK, we’ll just show up and do the self-guided tour. Not ideal, but doable.

The afternoon we arrived in Edenton, we were tired and it was already close to 90 degrees. This the last leg of our trip after watching wild ponies in Ocracoke, seeing the Lost Colony play in Roanoke, and feeling the exuberance of invention at the Wright Brothers’ exhibit in Kitty Hawk. It also looked as if it was going to rain which made me doubt everyone’s willingness to do a self-guided tour.

We were in luck, however, for when we arrived at the Visitor Center, we were met by an older woman named ‘Miss Carolyn’ (a native of Edenton), and she graciously walked with us and gave us a thorough 90 minute tour. Although not the primary docent on Harriet Jacob, she was a great resource and and enthusiastic guide.

The brief story about Harriet Jacobs goes as follows: Although they were enslaved, the Jacobs family had a great deal of relative freedom in the small town of Edenton. Her father was an accomplished carpenter, her grandmother, a well-known cook. After her mother’s death, Harriet went to live in the home of her owner Margaret Horniblow; Margaret taught her how to sew and read. It was assumed by Harriet and her family that Horniblow would emancipate her. Unfortunately, this was not the case and Harriet and her younger brother found themselves in the home of Mr. Norcom (there seems to be some historical evidence that Mr. Norcom somehow interfered with  Horniblow’s wishes and/or will). Mr. Norcum became obsessed with young Harriet and made many sexual advances on her. At the time it was common that enslaved women were often sexually brutalized by any white man that lived on the plantation (or off).

After dealing with this terrible situation for several years and trying other remedies (including beginning a liaison with Samuel Tredwell Sawyer, an unmarried, powerful white lawyer and future US Congressman), Harriet ran away and went into hiding. She first hid in the homes of friends, in nearby ‘Snaky Swamp’ and later in the home of her grandmother Molly. Harriet hid in her grandmother’s small attic above a storeroom for six years and eleven months. Norcom continued to search for her and briefly jailed her children (children from the liaison with Sawyer), her brother and an aunt hoping to flush her out. She successfully escaped in 1842 and made a life in New York. Norcom and other members of his family continued to search for her.

She was able to buy her children’s freedom and became prominent in the abolition movement. She completed Incidents in 1858. She had bad luck initially as two book publishers who acquired the book both went out of business before it came to print.

Harriet purchased the plates of her book and had it printed in 1861. This endeavor I imagine cost a small fortune. I had forgotten that self-publishing options were often a route for disenfranchised people to make their voices heard. She published it originally under a pseudonym as to protect the living members of her family still in slavery.

We were able to visit the church that Harriet and her family attended, the jail where her family members were imprisoned and the harbor where she escaped as part of the Underground Railroad.

IMG_4171

 

We also walked and looked at places where houses once stood that Harriet hid in.

The property of the Visitor Center has created a replica of Molly’s attic where Harriet hid. IMG_9976

She was able to sit up, but could not stand up. She had a small peep hole to look out of and the entire area was about 11 feet long, 4 feet wide and 3 feet high. Her grandmother would bring her food and occasionally she could come down, but the majority of the time was spent there. I can’t imagine the ways in which Harriet had to keep her mind occupied. Amazing.

My eldest godson Andrew, who is 14,  had read the book last year for class, so he knew many of of the details. It was so nice to share a piece of history with them.

10559502_10204383983419127_878594408_o

The power of the word is remarkable and and has often been used to fight injustice. I felt truly moved walking around Edenton and thinking about Harriet. If any of her family members’ graves had been marked, I would have left something on them as an offering, but unfortunately that was not the case. I have only scratched the surface in recounting the highlights of the life of Harriet Jacobs. For more, read Incidents in Life of a Slave Girl, and visit this site.

I’d love to hear if you’ve gone on a literary pilgrimage or are planning one.

This piece originally appeared in the ‘My View’ column for The Chapel Hill News, June 13, 2014.

Like many other people, over the past few weeks, I have been remembering Maya Angelou and mourning the loss of such a tremendous creative force.

Dr. Angelou was a teacher, writer, healer and lover of life until the very end. I discovered her work in college and remember performing her poems “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” with other powerful women at various gatherings. As a young woman, I found her work accessible, rich with positive female imagery, sensuous and often jubilant.

Maya Angelou’s death has made me think about aging, writing and being a creative “late bloomer.” What many people don’t know about Angelou, and I take great comfort in, is that she didn’t publish her first book until her early 40s (although she longed to do so before this).

She was an actress and performer for many years and then left the United States in 1960 to live in Cairo, Egypt, where she served as editor of the English language weekly The Arab Observer. Her next stop, a year later, was to Ghana where she taught at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama. She continued honing her writing there by working as a features editor for The African Review and also wrote for The Ghanaian Times.

She used her years abroad to great advantage by studying and taking classes in French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti. After her return to the States, with encouragement of her mentor, the esteemed James Baldwin, she started work on her famous memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which became an international bestseller. And once those creative floodgates opened, she didn’t stop, writing seven memoirs in total (with an eighth underway at the time of her death), a cookbook, television and film scripts, music scores, and more.

Angelou’s writing trajectory that began later in life makes me grateful about manifesting my creative work in my early 40s. It’s only been recently that I’ve come to appreciate that the path to your heart’s desire is rarely straight and narrow, or progress easily demarcated strictly by one’s age.

Enchantment with child stars and people who seemed to achieve big things early in their careers used to fascinate me. And, it’s true that as an academic, I’ve had solid and early professional success, so I can’t complain on that front. I’ve written creatively all my life, but it is has only been in the last decade that I’ve made more space for that identity to flourish. When younger I was convinced that something needed to happen at a particular age – 20, 25 or 38. I’m now less worried about age being a gauge of inner or outer success. If they have been blocked, by midlife, people often open to inner prompts, urgings and guidance about fresh directions. This leads to new commitments to pursue buried or unrealized dreams.

I am also cheered by examples of writers including Sapphire, Amy Tan and Toni Morrison that didn’t start their writing careers until their late thirties and early forties. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a remarkable memoir. The skill and focus it took to craft it might not have been there if Angelou had not lived a full and complex life (i.e. sex worker, sexual assault survivor, performance artist, world traveler, and teacher), and faced her internal demons and doubts as a mature woman.

A writing life in middle age, though, demands mandatory self-care. The average life expectancy for American women is 80 years. It will take all the mental and physical courage I can muster to meet the page every day for the next 30 or so odd years; I want a supple mind and a healthy body. I have embraced a preventative regimen: a weekly schedule of yoga, exercise (to counteract all that sitting), meditation (to counteract loud inner critics), eating right and easy on the alcohol.

Watching Dr. Angelou over the years, it seemed that she found a balance between work and deep pleasure. She taught until 2011, but had plans to go back into the classroom later this year. Angelou appeared to be as delighted by the language of aspiring poets as she was by the writers she deeply admired including Shakespeare and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. And, her dinner parties in Winston-Salem were legendary.

If I die at my desk, at 80, with a pen in my hand, a gorgeous journal in my lap, surrounded by my published works, I’ll be a happy woman.

And, if I can get a few fabulous dinner parties in before I go, I imagine Maya would be proud.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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