I don't remember how I got on the mailing list for the Center for Writers and Poets. I may have signed up when I went to hear Anne Lamott a bunch of years ago. I may have even sent a donation when I was flush. I get their mailings but pay very little attention to them. But the writers they had at the conference last weekend they called Celebration of Books attracted me. It's even very cheap. I didn't make it through the whole thing, to my very deep regret. I wore out - my back was hurting bad and I felt like I was going to throw up. All of that sent me home at noon on Saturday and I missed Rita Dove - Pulitzer Prize winning poet. But I definitely got a bunch of inspiration and information from the Friday night and Saturday morning presentations.
Sue Monk Kidd (author of "The Secret Life of Bees") and Michael Cunningham (Pulitzer prize winner for "The Hours") talked on Friday night. They talked about what it took to be a writer - the difficulties mostly, and to my amazement, even though I'm an unpublished writer, I have had all those difficulties and emotions. The message was you just have to do it anyway. It's a calling, not a choice.
On Saturday morning the youngest member of the Little Rock seven who integrated a Little Rock high school in 1957 talked. She has just written a book about her experiences because in this new environment we're living in, some people are denying that it was really as bad as people think - sort of like the folks who are saying the holocaust never happened. I remember seeing on TV the little girl walking up to the high school with crowds of white people screaming, "Nigger," etc. and spitting on her. I was a junior in high school and this was my first introduction to what I now call "the evil world." In my little southern Missouri town, people might be prejudiced but they didn't act like that. I was heart broken to see that human beings could treat a child like that. I cried and cried. I shed a few tears on Saturday morning too.
After that I went to two breakout sessions - one on mothers and daughters collaborating on memoirs which intrigued me a lot, and one on memoirs. I learned so much, I cannot say how much. All but one of the writers were women and they talked about how difficult it was for them and the barriers they had to overcome to be writers - a lot of the obvious stuff - child care, home care, husband care - "just a housewife syndrome" I call it. But the real barriers were internal - the belief that we're not good enough to be REAL writers etc. I was blown away again.
In both sessions all of the writers talked about what to really reveal about ourselves in our writing. Who is going to have hurt feelings? Who is going to be mad? Do we get permission first? How badly will readers view us when we reveal our inner selves. The agreement was - you've got to tell the truth. Sometimes you may moderate to save someone else (but it's better if you don't. Just be brave and take the consequences), but not to save yourself.
Every writer I heard said the point of writing is to allow others to experience other people's reality - it promotes empathy and thus - perhaps - helps make the world a better place. So it's absolutely necessary to tell the truth. Being a servant of your own work is necessary, but also writing to serve the world is also necessary.
Heavy stuff. I'm motivated but more afraid even than I was but also more determined to do my writing anyway. I just finished another story. Good for me.
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