The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘women writers

I’m super excited about my guest for this author Q&A and the new format. I thought I’d start moving my author Q&As to Youtube. Dr. Molly Howes was so gracious in agreeing to being the first one!

Molly is a Harvard trained psychologist and an award-winning writer. I met Molly in summer 2015 when we were both soaking up the wonders of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico during the A Room of Her Own (AROHO) residency.

Anne Lee Photography

As I say in the interview, I always felt an openhearted vibe from Molly and I’m glad we have stayed in touch over the years. When I heard about the release of her new book A Good Apology: Four Steps to Make Things Right, I knew I wanted to share her work here.

It’s a timely and powerful book that I enjoyed reading. During the interview we talk about her comprehensive approach to apologies, why it’s important to do them well, how her case studies from years as a psychologist inform the book, and how A Good Apology made its way into publication. We also talk about racial legacies and reparations and Molly’s experience as a new author. I hope you enjoy our discussion and let me know if you want more Youtube interviews!

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Your invitation still stands, click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

I’ve missed bringing you awesome author interviews this year, so I’m glad to share this new one with you!

Last June, I met Paige L. Christie on a panel at my first ConCarolinas. We were on a panel that I had pitched about ‘Mothers and Daughters’ and how their relationships are portrayed in speculative media. I had heard of Paige’s Legends of Arnan series and my curiosity was piqued as it was described as an epic fantasy with Western elements and feminist sensibilities. Or, as one reviewer on Amazon described it as, “a feminist Western with dragons”. The panel was fabulous and Paige and I quickly realized we had many overlapping interests. My plan was to invite her for an Author Q&A in 2019. The best laid plans…

Fast forward a year. Paige and I got reconnected through the lovely fact that we both have stories in the recently released Witches, Warriors and Wise Women anthology (by Prospective Press, same publisher as her epic fantasy series) and were on a virtual panel together promoting the book.

Paige L. Christie is author of The Legacies of Arnan fantasy series: Draigon Weather (2017), Wing Wind (2018), Long Light (2019), and the forthcoming Storm Forge (2020). As a believer in the power of words, Paige tells stories that are both entertaining and thoughtful. Especially of interest are tales that speak to women and open a space where adventure and fantasy are not all about happy endings. When she isn’t writing, she teaches belly dancing, is director of a non-profit, and runs a wine shop. She is a proud, founding member of the Blazing Lioness Writers, a small group of badass women, writing badass books.

It’s wonderful that Paige could join us to talk about her most recent novel, Long Light.  I’m so delighted to welcome Paige L. Christie to The Practice of Creativity.

 

 

Tell us about your new book, Long Light? This is the third book in your series that began with Draigon Weather. What’s in store for readers?

When I finished Draigon Weather, I realized that one of the minor characters, Kilras Dorn, was much more vital to the overall story than I initially anticipated. Much to my publisher’s dismay, I announced that the series would not be 3 books but rather 4 books. Long Light is Kilras’s story, from his childhood right up to the moment that ends the second book. Basically, I wrote Book 1, Book 2, Book 3, and am now writing Book 4. Oh the tribulations of being a ‘pantser’.

-When we were on panel together, you mentioned that you came to writing late in life (although you always had a desire to write). What are the gifts of pursuing a writing career later in life? What are the challenges, if any?

I actually started writing when I was 7 years old, and majored in writing and editing for my undergraduate degree. I’ve spent my whole life writing, but somewhere along the way I convinced myself that I was incapable of writing a novel, and that even if I did manage it, no one would be interested in reading it. So I did not complete my first novel until 2015, when I was 44 years old. The gift of this was that I had almost 4 decades of secret writing practice and had developed a strong, unique voice in that time period. The challenge is carrying a lot of guilt about ‘time wasted’, which, while pointless, weighs on me. I wish I’d had faith in myself and my writing sooner. But on the other hand, Draigon Weather could not have been written any sooner in my life. It’s a mixed bag. I’m just grateful that I got my act together at last!

-You take some delight, I think in mashing up and subverting genres. Your series is an epic fantasy that has a Western feel. What does genre mean to you?

Genre tells me where to find a book in a bookstore. It also lays out some expectations for long-time readers. People who read mysteries expect certain and different things than people who read horror or modern literature or fantasy or romance. Genre is basically a set of expectations mutually agreed upon by publishers, authors, and readers. Those expectations are based in resonance and shared history – and it’s really fun to ride those things to a place the reader does not expect.

 -How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I wrote the first draft of Draigon Weather in 4 months, then spent the next 18 months re-drafting and editing until it was in good enough shape to put out into the world. Wing Wind and Long Light both took about 2 years each to get into shape. The final book in the series is taking longest of all, mostly because the 2020 Pandemic has shorted-out my creative side. Overall, I can usually create a draft in 4-7 months, and then I nitpick for a year to get it where I want it.

-What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel? Why?

What comes to mind for me is not a novel, but a series The Wars of Light and Shadow series by Janny Wurts. It is by far the most epic and intense thing I have ever read, and I think it gets over-looked because it is 1) a massive series written by a woman and people make ridiculous assumptions about what that means 2) uses such rich language and depth of detail that it demands a lot of the reader, and we live in a time when people want instant gratification. As a fan of intense character and world building, and a lover of complex, gorgeous use of language, the very things that freak people out are what attract me to these books. That and the fact that every time I think I know exactly what is going to happen next, I’m wrong! I simply adore these books.

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

This is a tough question because there’s no one-size writing advice for every human. I’d say never get to a point where you think you know it all. Always remain a student of craft. Read widely, seek advice, study books you like and figure out why you like those books, then try new techniques and styles until you find what works for you. Start writing and know that as long as you keep writing, you’ll get better!

Some craft books I recommend:

  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
  • Techniques of the Selling Writerby Dwight V. Swain
  • Steering the Craft– Ursula K. LeGuin

Paige L. Christie is a short story writer and novelist. She possesses an uncanny knowledge of myths, archetypes and mystical worlds, and is a true student of fantasy, science fiction, history. It is her deep interest in folklore, as well as intersection of Middle Eastern and North African cultures that originally piqued her interest in the exploration of the influence of different societies, which became the foundation of her novels. Find out more about her here.

Her third novel in the Legends of Arnan series, Long Light, is available everywhere online.

Your invitation still stands, click here to get your ‘Ten Ways to Keep Connected to Your Writing Self during COVID-19’.

I’ve been a bit quiet here because I’ve been recovering from crazy deadlines and intense creative output. In October, I shared that I attended the Hay House Writer’s Workshop and learned much about book proposal writing. Hay House Publishing is known for publishing leading self-help, health and wellness, and personal transformation books and has a very successful thirty-year track record.

The attendees to each of the Hay House WWs are able to submit their book proposal into a subsequent contest for one of the three publishing prizes that they sponsor between Hay House and Balboa Press, their smaller imprint. The cool thing is that you are only competing with people who attended that particular conference, in that particular city. Usually about 250 people attend each conference and Reid Tracy, CEO of Hay House reminded us that typically 80-100 people actually are able to get the book proposal in on time. I liked those odds which is one of the reasons why I decided to attend.

Super inspiring to hear Rebekah Borucki’s journey. She attended a HH Writer’s workshop a few years ago but didn’t submit a proposal. She then worked on the book proposal for ‘You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life’ and platform. She submitted her proposal to Hay House via the traditional route and it got acquired and it is now out. She talked about writing the book of your heart. I also appreciated that they showcased an up and coming author and one who identifies as bi-racial.

I’ve been working on a creativity book for some time and so had a draft proposal. I was determined to be in the group of people who submitted their work (see my post about the importance of submitting your work and not self-rejecting) by the due date which was April 5. However, despite my best intentions, I didn’t start the revision process until January. And, although they gave us an invaluable handbook and worksheet of what to include in the proposal, I started the revising later than I had wanted. I had a lot more to add in the marketing and competing books sections. During Jan and Feb, I also attended to other pressing deadlines. Oh, and then COVID-19 happened. And, everything became harder and more chaotic.

And, as they do, my excuses glommed together and created a wonderful home for resistance to take hold.

Deep resistance kicked in just days before I was due to submit the proposal. I kept telling myself that on closer inspection my idea was dumb, had all been said before, unworthy, etc. Yup, the inner critics were phenomenally loud. And, to top it all off, I waited until the last minute to create a short video which was a mandatory part of the package! They asked applicants to create a video to provide some background about ourselves and our book idea. Since marketing and promotion often requires authors to create short videos, they want to see our comfort and skill level with video. We had to post it to our YouTube channel. I do have a YouTube channel, but had forgotten the password, how to login, etc. Resolving that took a good twenty minutes.

As we all know, perfect is the enemy of the good, so after I was pretty happy with the proposal, I got busy on the video. I really tried to not overly script the video and to just enjoy myself. I probably did at least twenty takes before I said, OK, I’ve got to go with the strongest one so far. It’s not perfect.

Looking at the video now, there are lots of things I would do differently and will do differently in the future. I decided though to hold off on judgement for a good 24 hours. I learned long ago from Barbara Sher, author of Wishcraft, how important it is to not judge yourself for at least for 24 hours after you do something creative in public.

The most important thing is that the book proposal package was sent a few hours before the deadline. It got done!

I learned so much from attending the workshop, revising the proposal and submitting it. No matter what the outcome, I feel like a winner.

In my notes from the conference, I wrote down something that Reid said that we should all remember (paraphrased): “The challenge for most writers is to remind yourself…the work doesn’t feel new to you, but it is new to other people.” (emphasis mine)

That was the crux of my resistance–I’d been looking at and living with aspects of the book idea forever, so it didn’t feel exciting or new anymore. That’s why those voices were on hyperdrive. I’d forgotten what that type of resistance felt like.

In the video, I talk about my book proposal for The Creative Tickle®: 52 Ways to Tap into Your DNA and Divinity and a little about myself.  

If you’re so inclined, check out my video and feel free to leave a thumbs up or a nice comment (y’all are kind people, I know!).

It’s been a weird few days for all of us, huh? About two weeks ago, I left for Copenhagen and by the time I got back (with some difficulty), COVID-19 was in full swing. Later this week, I’ll share some reflections about that trip and how we can keep writing some during this difficult moment.

In the meantime, I’m sharing something that I’d love your help supporting and/or signal boosting. This is my second invitation to a crowdfunded anthology and I’m super excited about it! [BTW, I am working on the edits to my story that I wrote for the successfully funded Witches, Warriors and Wise Women, due out in June]

LET’S SLAY!

Do you like vampires? Vampire slayers? A fresh take on vampires and vampire slayers? Mocha Memories Press is crowdfunding Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, an anthology which will be groundbreaking as it explores vampires of the African Diaspora. I’m one of the invited authors that will be submitting a story along with Sheree Renee Thomas, Steven Van Patten, and Teri Clarke! Mocha Memoirs Press is run by the incredible Nicole Smith and has been a force in amplifying the work of diverse voices in speculative fiction.


We’re almost halfway funded! Please consider supporting this anthology, there are lots of great perks available (with great names like hunters, slayers, stakes and blood drinkers). $1 perks available! Feel free to share with others! TY!

 

Stay safe and healthy!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore my feelings and relationship to the term ‘Afrofuturism’ in this recent essay for the online quarterly magazine South Write Large: Stories, Arts and Ideas for the Global South. Is this a term that you have heard a lot about? How do you engage with Afrofuturism?

My Unlikely Path to Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism is everywhere these days. From the staggering success of Black Panther to the revival of Octavia Butler’s works, especially the prescient Parable of the Sower written in 1993, to the award-winning novels by N. K. Jemisin, these books have ushered in a new moment. We’re not just talking about literature or film, but music, fashion design, visual arts, and social activism as well. What often gets lost or flattened, however, when a phenomenon enters the mainstream, is the nuance, history, and multiple viewpoints on said phenomenon. Read the rest of the essay here.

February has been a rich and wonderful month. It felt as if I was in deep communion with the writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). For many years, I’ve been fascinated by her life. ZNH was ahead of her time as a writer and scholar (she was the first Black woman to receive a doctorate in anthropology). She was also a cultural icon and transgressive artist.

Zora Neale Hurston

In 2016, I started a story, “Etta, Zora and the First Serpent” that takes place in the 1930s. Etta, a dancer at the Cotton Club, meets the charismatic ZNH and gets entangled in one of Zora’s schemes to conjure secrets from an old spirit. As you might imagine, trouble ensues.

I am generally fascinated by the time period of the 1920s-1940s and have always been interested in the Cotton Club as my maternal grandmother danced there for a brief period. In the story, I get to explore the race, class and gender dynamics of the day as the Cotton Club practiced segregation (only white patrons were seated) and colorism (i.e. African American female dancers that were hired were typically “light-skinned” or with a “cafe au lait” complexion).

Several Cotton Club dancers

The Apollo Dancers at the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, a film by Heather MacDonald

I was inspired to finish this historically themed horror story (with a twinge of fantasy), and then submit it in 2018 for a specific anthology. It got rejected from that anthology and I went to work on it some more. Last year I submitted it to AfroMyth: Volume 2-A Fantasy Collection and it was accepted!

I went through intensive edits on the story. What was refreshing, however, was that I didn’t have to work much on the structure of the story (I often struggle with plotting), but instead needed to beef up description in the last quarter of the story. It was one of the shorter stories I have written, submitted at 5,000 words (which was the maximum word length). In the revisions, however, I wound up adding another 500 words.

AfroMyth: Volume 2 was released today! It features fourteen fantasy stories featuring characters of the African Diaspora.

I love the cover of this collection!

Zora had her spirit fingerprints all over my life this month. I was invited to attend the 31st annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. It took place in early February in Eatonville, FL.  Eatonville, a historically all Black town is where Zora grew up. The Festival spans multiple days. This year the theme was the multiverse and Afrofuturism! There was an academic conference, an outdoor festival and tons of activities and festivities.  I was with an amazing group of speculative friction writers, all paying tribute to ZNH, her genius and legacy.

Standing, left to right P. Djeli Clark, Nwatchukwu Iheoma, Bill Campbell, Tenea Johnson. Seated: Maurice Broaddus and Chesya Burke. We are all looking very writerly!

It’s rare that I have the opportunity to read with and connect to other Black writers, especially in the field of speculative fiction, so my time at the ZNH Festival felt pretty magical.

If you are a speculative fiction reader, I hope you check out the collection. You can find it at all online sellers. Amazon link is here. Here’s the book trailer to check out, too.

I’m doing something I have never done before. I’m sharing a few paragraphs from my WIP for WITCHES, WARRIORS AND WISE WOMEN the Kickstarter funded anthology. The tentative title for my story is ‘Ditch Girl’ and is set in a post-apocalyptic world with a smidgen of urban fantasy. There are definitely witches in this story. This is a draft for your reading pleasure only.

BTW, we are 66% funded with only 3 days to go. I’d LOVE it if you would consider supporting this project and/or sharing the link. And, thanks to all of you who have already supported the project in various ways!

There are still VERY cool rewards and pledge levels available—help us fund this project and get some extra goodies for yourself. But hurry—the clock is ticking!

It will feature new fiction by me and Gail Martin, Paige Christie, Darin Kennedy, Alexandria Christian, Nicole Smith, JD Blackrose and many others.

Details here.

“Ditch Girl”

The cemetery never scared Welcome, even as a child.  Cutting through it to get home provided the quickest route and allowed unrivaled use of her imagination. She would make up stories about people, looking for the oldest headstones. Most days after school, before it got dark, she’d pick an interesting gravestone, settle in and strike up a conversation. She’d share things that didn’t sit right in her mind.

She might say, “Ana Sterling of 1950, if you were here, I’d show you around Thistleview. Not that there’s very much to see. In your day, I bet you use to go into that old city called Tulsa, not too far from here. It’s not there anymore now, Ana.”

Or, “One day the preacher’s wife slapped me for not wearing a slip. After service, she asked me to come in the back to talk to her and before I knew it she had her beefy hand on me.

The preacher’s wife said, “Welcome, can’t you see your breasts are falling out that dress? Do you want to end up like your mother?”

Mama never said I had to wear a slip, Ana. I don’t even have a slip. I stopped going to church after that. The preacher’s wife don’t bother me no more. She don’t even speak to me at all. She just looks right through me as if I’m some piece of old cobweb. Were slips big in your day, Ana? I bet they were. People had money back then from what I’ve read. They went places that needed slips.”

On this day Welcome made her way through the forested part of the cemetery, where the red cedars were thickest and some of the oldest headstones lay. She paused and sniffed, noticing the coolness in this part of the cemetery. She then heard words sung by a female voice:

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart

Goosebumps pebbled her pale skin and she hunched into her ragged coat. The phrases repeated and Welcome looked toward the nearest stand of trees. She darted behind one and then another thinking that she had been followed by some of her stupid classmates.

After a few minutes of frantic searching and finding no singers (she knew no one in town that sounded as good as that voice), with every vein straining in her face, she listened.

Another female voice rang out, this one heavier:

We’re trying to come throu…

Come to us!

The moment seared her like when she waited for the once a month afternoon train. Pricks of excitement and danger bit into her, making her hop from foot to foot. She couldn’t make herself stand still. Nothing she had heard so far in her life sounded as good as these voices. They made her feel as if her favorite butterscotch candies were melting on her tongue. No, it was as if she floated in warm butterscotch candy. She ran up and down the stretch of the cemetery. Welcome overturned rocks, peeked behind headstones, climbed a small tree and searched for the origin of those voices until she could barely see in front of her.

Exhausted, she remembered her responsibilities. Mama will wonder where dinner is.

“Please, whatever you are come to me,” she said at last, the frustration catching in her throat. On rest of the walk home as the sun sank, a feeling of utter sadness swept over Welcome. Maybe everyone in town is right. I’m going crazy, like Mama.

***

I hoped you enjoyed this snippet. I’m sure that my opening and entire story will go through several drafts before I’m happy with it and send it on. I look forward to working with Jason Graves, publisher of Prospective Press and editor of this anthology.

 

October has been designated Black Speculative Fiction month when we especially pay attention to Black creators of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi! Luckily, there is still time to share some of my favorite writers with you and provide links to some great lists being circulated. If you don’t get to check out these writers now, the holiday season will be upon us shortly, so consider putting them on your list for yourself or as a gifts for others.

 

 Nisi Shawl

When I was in graduate school and thought that I was the only Black person that loved and wanted to write science fiction, I luckily met Nisi Shawl who worked in a used bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI. She was the first person of color that I had serious conversations with about Black speculative fiction and ideas that would eventually would become known as ‘Afrofuturism’ many years later. This was probably more than 25 years ago. She was a mentor and friend and I have followed her career with great joy. If you don’t know her, you should. Her recent steampunk book Everfair received critical reviews. It re-imagines the Belgium Congo and asks what would have happened if African peoples had developed steam technology first. She is active in sci-fi circles and is a cultural critic. She also co-facilitates a workshop for writers called ‘Writing the Other’ which has become a standard for writers both in sci-fi and out for helping writers develop deeply diverse, human and grounded characters. Even though she moved away before I had come into my own as a writer, I owe Nisi Shawl a great debt for her vision and encouragement. Check her work out!

http://www.nisishawl.com/Everfair%20reviews.html

Nicole Givens Kurtz

Sisters of the Wild Sage is a wonderful collection of stories of the ‘weird west’ by Nicole Givens Kurtz. As I said in my review: “…it is dazzling, groundbreaking and compelling. We are privy to complex and memorable characters, mostly Black women and women of color and viscerally experience how they have to make a way out of no way and keep their dignity whole doing so. In several stories, Kurtz explores the challenges these women faced in a post-Reconstruction world that was sometimes indifferent, often hostile, and sometimes brimming with new possibilities. You’ll cheer and cry for them at every turn.”

Kurtz has turned me on to a whole new subgenre of speculative fiction! You can see the Author  Q&A I did with her in the summer here.

https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Wild-Sage-Weste…/…/0999852248

Tananarive Due

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work of Tananarive Due (tah-nah-nah-REEVE-doo). She’s an author who has won an American Book Award, an NAACP Image award and a British Fantasy Award. She primarily writes horror and you can see her in a new fantastic documentary that she produced: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (available on Shudder and it is excellent). One of her most popular series is the African Immortals which begins with My Soul to Keep.

https://www.tananarivedue.com

Here’s a fantastic list put together by the Oakland Public Library! Enjoy!

I am excited to share my first experience co-hosting a podcast! I love the Writer’s Well: Conversations about writing from craft to wellness podcast with Rachael Herron and J. Thorn. Rachael Herron and J. Thorn are friends and full-time writers and they share observations about the challenges and joys of the writing life. Each person poses a question to the other; it’s an unscripted and fun process. I’ve been listening to them for about two years. I really enjoy how supportive they are of each other and their larger community. The advice they give is invaluable and their warmth and affection for each other is joyous.

I’m in their private, once a month Mastermind group along with author Amy Taksuda. I’ve been in the group three months and like I say on the show, it is the best thing I’ve done for my writing life this year. They coach us on our writing challenges and Amy and I also brainstorm with each other. Our group has got great synergy. We were honored that they asked each of us to co-host an episode, with Rachael, during September while J was traveling. I jumped at the opportunity as I love the show and enjoy speaking on podcasts when I have the opportunity.

Rachael posed the question to me: ‘How does physicality affect your writing?’ True to the show’s format, the question was fresh for me. We talked about yoga, writing routines, swimming, Zumba, staying healthy as a writer, outsmarting your inner critic and more.

Not having the question ahead of time and being spontaneous was a good practice for me. I often over prepare for most engagements and consequently can miss being present with what is actually happening. Don’t we all have control issues, lol? Of course, after the show I thought of all the additional things I wanted to say! But, you can tell from listening to our conversation that is was fresh, lively and surprising to each of us.

She made me feel so welcome. It was so fun and such an honor.

Check it out here when you have a moment!

 

As you know by now, the country has lost one of the greatest writers ever to use the English language–Toni Morrison.

There have been several wonderful and poignant remembrances about her:

In the Paris Review: Creative folks (writers and a photographer) remembering Toni Morrison. Made me laugh and choke up. Fran Lebowitz’s memories about Toni are funny (who knew how much Toni loved dessert–can’t we all identify with that?) and poignant as she talks about Toni’s ability to forgive.This is how we all wish to be remembered by those who knew us well–as living big, full and messy lives and giving all we have to our art and each other. And, of course the peculiarities that our friends love about us.
(credit to Austin Kleon’s newsletter where I first saw the link)
https://www.theparisreview.org/…/20…/08/06/remembering-toni/

My wonderful AROHO (A Room of Her Own Foundation) friend, Cassandra Lane wrote a powerful homage:

And this from The New Yorker feature with several writers reflecting on Morrison’s legacy:

If it hadn’t been for Toni’s Morrison’s “Sula,” I would never have been able to write the book that is “Another Brooklyn.” If not for the many readings of “The Bluest Eye,” half of the books I’ve written for young people would not be in the world. So many writers, so many writers that are women, so many writers that are black know this to be true—because of Toni Morrison, we are. Because of her, I am.

—Jacqueline Woodson

(thanks to Heloise Jones for posting on her Facebook page)

I thought I would write a very short memory about Toni Morrison, one that I have been carrying around for some time. Well, it turned out a lot longer than anticipated. It’s really a beginning meditation on creativity, my alma mater, Bard College and being a student of color in the 1980s. It turned out deeply personal:

A different kind of Toni Morrison memory…

I discovered Toni Morrison in the Language and Thinking program that was required of all first-year students admitted to Bard College. The year was 1987. ‘L&T’ took place a few days before the start of the semester and provided an opportunity for students to socialize and experience humanities classes in the traditional, intimate seminar style that defined Bard. I see myself then, a fiercely proud young woman, excited to be at Bard, but already feeling a bit off kilter by the extreme affluence and whiteness of the student body. [To give you a sense of this, Bard’s student body during the years I attended, 1987-91 was around 900 students. I would say that at any given time there were about 50 or fewer self-identifying students of color. I remember 3 Black faculty on campus, one tenured, one a visiting professor and the other person was Chinua Achebe, who came during my junior year]. I remember being the only African American student in my L &T group of about 12 students. We had a wonderful instructor, a white guy, whose name is now lost to me who had us read different selections from novels during the week. Typically, the L&T professors were not Bard professors and I believe they brought much needed fresh perspectives and new texts into this endeavor.

On one of the days, the instructor had us read the opening pages of Sula. For those of you who have read Sula, you may remember that it begins with exposition of how Black residents in a small fictional town in Ohio came to occupy ‘The Bottom’. It’s beautifully written and deftly reveals the horror of disenfranchisement and segregation that marked much of 19th and 20th century America. I felt exposed and vulnerable, both as a reader and a student. Who was this writer to expose truths and ideas so deep that it cut to the core? I’m sure the teacher wanted to demonstrate how a writer could so thoroughly and expertly engage questions of history, community and identity in a few short pages. The educator in me is almost positive that he said that the author was African American. I don’t actually remember, but I know that at some point in the class I thought the author was white. I somewhere along the line, in realizing Morrison was Black, then turned my anger on her—how dare she write about these difficult things! How dare her that I have to read them? How dare the power of her words to completely refashion my psyche in the midst of a classroom, in front of strangers?

I’m not proud of this memory, but there it is.

[I was still coming out of my young adulthood pre-racial consciousness in wondering why there had to be a magazine like Essence, instead of one for ‘all of us’. I was slowly realizing that color-blind approaches didn’t work in confronting systemic oppression]

It was probably the first time that I so powerfully experienced being in a classroom being both hypervisible and also invisible because of the intersection between the text taught and my own subjectivity. I don’t remember saying one word during that class. Of the white students who did talk, I wonder of their experience. Did they have to treat the text as distant and almost ethnographic or did it shatter their ideas of America, too? Most of them did look at me at some point in the class to say something and what did they make of my refusal? Defiance? Ignorance? Embarrassment?

I am, of course, grateful to this instructor who had us read and think about Toni Morrison’s words. He went on to become an early champion of my creative writing. As an instructor now, I am very attentive to thinking about who is in the room when I am assigning various texts, especially fiction. I think about not just the analytical points I want the work of the text to do, but how will it land with students across their multiple and intersecting identities.

By sophomore year, I did embrace Toni Morrison and devoured her work. I have fond memories of summer vacations reading one of her books.

Toni Morrison-ness was also invoked in my creative writing classes. Although I graduated a political studies major, my true love was English and creative writing and I came very close to being a double major. In most of my creative writing classes, every writing assignment I turned in leaned toward ‘non-realism’ or speculative fiction. This was not always appreciated. And, trust me, at the time, few of my English professors (except one teaching ‘Women and Writing’) had heard of or read Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood or Octavia Butler. Some of my writing professors, however, also struck me as fundamentally lazy in their reading habits. They did not appear to have read widely in 20th century African American literature. So, they would say things like…”you write so well, it reminds me of Toni Morrison.” This happened several times. I guarantee you that I did not write as well as Toni Morrison—it was just the only Black female author they had bothered to read. They weren’t reading Ntozake Shange, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paule Marshall, Alice Walker, Jean Toomer (male) and others whose work I was also consuming and trying very hard to emulate.

As much as I loved attending Bard, Bard for many students of color was a difficult place to exist socially, politically, and aesthetically.

In writing about Morrison, I see that I am also writing about how my generation of creatives of color (now in our late 40s or early 50s) were often not nurtured by our PWI college environments. Many of us were tokenized, our creative work often dismissed, ignored or trivialized. This is not necessarily news, but important for me to say at this point in my life.
We ultimately had to find our own role models and build our own canons. Toni Morrison, despite our rocky start became part of the bedrock of my canon. I love her work and when I can, I teach her novel, Love, to our Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies class. Many fall in love with her right away and many have already read some of her work in high school or other college classes. Times do change, thankfully.

I will, like so many Black creatives, always be in her debt.

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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