The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘black women

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’.

 

octavia_butler.jpeg.CROP.rtstoryvar-large

 

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.

Screenshot_2014-12-18_18-330-crave

-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.

happybdayshewrites

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

Dear Alice,

Happy Birthday!alice_walker2002-headshot-bw-med

I like many other writers, readers, scholars and folk are sending you the biggest of birthday wishes and affection. Here are ten things that I want to thank you for:

  1. For your beautiful smile. By the time I was a sophomore in college I had discovered your body of  work and read everything I could find. In my desire to develop as a writer and having so few models that looked like me, I nurtured secret fantasies of being your daughter–because I thought we had similar smiles. I know that sounds strange. Don’t misunderstand–I loved my mother and her face. But, she possessed high cheekbones, ones that I would never have. Seeing your smile with full cheeks made me appreciate my own wide smile and made it easier to imagine myself as a writer. Also, an essence of kindness radiates from your smile that draws people in that I admire. Now, more than twenty years later, I am a writer and have nurtured my creative self, so had shed that fantasy of being your daughter. But, I still love your smile!
  2. For writing The Temple of My Familiar. Epic, metaphysical, culturally rooted and romantic! I still remember a snippet of a line that Fanny says to her husband as she is trying to encourage both of them to spiritually evolve-“I love your breath most because it is the least colonized part of you” (paraphrase)
  3. For writing about African American women’s creativity and exploding conventional notions about what creativity is ‘good for’ in the landmark essay ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’. I have written elsewhere about the power of that essay in my life. I am still amazed that in many popular creativity books, authors still fail to acknowledge the genius of African American women (and other women of color) and reduce creativity solely to production.
  4. For naming womanism.
  5. For your novel Meridian. I just finished teaching this amazing novel to students in my ‘Women of Color in Contemporary U.S. Social Movements’ class. It provides a powerful connection to the struggles of black and white women during the Civil Rights movement. It also beautifully explores the psychological and health challenges of being an activist.
  6. For writing about role of meditation and Buddhism in your life and the value of contemplative practices for the future of humanity.
  7. For resurrecting the work of Zora Neale Hurston.
  8. For The Color Purple. Singular and visionary.
  9. For Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems.
  10. For your short story collections: In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. These collections tackled topics that ranged from abortion, pornography, black love, internalized hatred, love, lust, fame, and valuing one’s roots.

I’ve stopped myself at 10, but I could easily keep going. Thank you for all that you have written and shared.

There are few times that I get down about living in a small town in North Carolina, but this weekend is one of them. I have been excited about the film debut of Precious for weeks. I thought I was going to see the film and do a bit of film analysis on the blog, since I have read and taught PUSH by Sapphire (the powerful novel that that film is based on), for years. But, alas it is not opening anywhere in the Raleigh/Durham area until Nov 20! So I can’t write about the film. I can, however, share a bit about how Sapphire’s coming into her own as a writer at 40, along with other writers and activists, who started their journeys later in life, have been an inspiration to me.

Two weekends ago, I was watching MILK, the incredible story of the gay activist Harvey Milk. Early in the film, he picks up a man who will become his long term lover. At this time Harvey Milk is a closeted gay man. Right after the clock strikes on his 40th birthday, he says to his lover plaintively, “I’ve haven’t done a single thing I’m proud of.” (I’m paraphrasing). With his lover’s urging, they move to San Francisco, reinvent themselves and within a year, he is on the path that will eventually shape the modern gay rights movement.

When I have students read PUSH, I ask them to also read an interview with her conducted by Patricia Bell Scott in Flat-Footed Truths: Telling Black Women’s Lives. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

“Although I had been writing for some time, I was almost forty before I claimed my identity as a writer. In 1990, when I did my last major performance, a fifty minute choreopoem, ‘Are You Ready to Rock,’ my business manager, a wonderful young African American woman, said to me, “If I’m going to promote you as a writer, where’s the writing? Where’s the book?” I was trying to do the performance work, trying to write, and none of it was making a living. I was exhausted. Dead tired. And I couldn’t go on.
I went through an intense midlife-turning forty crisis. I felt that I had not really done much with my life, when I compared myself to mentors like Ntozake [Shange], who had five or six books. Then I looked at some of the reasons I hadn’t tried. A lack of confidence-a belief that maybe I couldn’t do it or that I wasn’t good or smart enough. I also realized that I had never committed myself to any one thing. I had always tried to dance, act and write at the same time.
With this awareness, I decided to totally commit myself to becoming a writer. I said “I will put together a collection of writings for publication,” and that became American Dreams. I said, “I will go to school and get an MFA degree”; and I did.”

Witnessing Harvey Milk’s decision to begin over again at 40 and Sapphire’s commitment to writing at 40 makes me grateful about manifesting my creative work at this stage in my life (41). 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.

I’ve always been somewhat enchanted with child stars and people who seem to achieve big things early in their careers. 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, however, been creatively writing all my life, but it is has only been in the last ten years that I’ve made more space for that identity to flourish. I used to be more convinced that something needed to happen at a particular age: 20, 25, and 38. I’m now less worried about age being a gauge of inner or outer success. I do think that by midlife, people are usually getting intuitive prompts, urgings and guidance about new directions, if they have been blocked. This often leads to new commitments to pursue buried or unrealized dreams.

I am also cheered by examples of writers including Amy Tan and Toni Morrison that didn’t start their writing careers until their late thirties or early 40s. PUSH is a remarkable novel and I think the skill and focus it took to craft it might not had happened if Sapphire had not lived a full and complex life (sex worker, writer, incest survivor, performance artist, teacher), and faced her internal demons and doubts squarely in the face as a mature woman. Her life and other ‘over thirty’ creative bloomers are useful reminders of the arc of human potential.

I hope that you will read PUSH and see the film. So, if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where it is opening this weekend, go see it. Seeing the film sends a message to Hollywood that the viewing public is interested in being challenged and hearing new stories.

I’ve included a link to Sapphire being interviewed on NPR:
Sapphire’s Story: How ‘Push’ Became ‘Precious’
All things considered: NOV 6 – 2009
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120176695


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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

View Full Profile →

Follow me on Twitter

Follow The Practice of Creativity on WordPress.com