“The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.” -Toni Morrison
As a young girl, my mother had to chose what utilities she would keep on and which ones she would let go to keep my sister, brother and I fed and clothed. Phone service NEVER made the “stay on” list and gas service was optional during summer months. Cable television was not discussed in my home because we only had two televisions and they were black and white. (yes, color televisions were available and no I won’t tell the year or my age). My escape was reading. The easiest series of books to find in sequential collections at thrift stores at the time were the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. And I read them all! From Little House in the Big Woods to On the Banks of Plum Creek to The Long Winter, this is what was available to me and living in their world became my past time. At school, I remember the books to read were the Judy Blume collections and I bemused myself in all of those books as well. Luckily for me, my mother supported my hobby and when I became old enough to ride the city bus to the library I found all types of worlds to fall in love with! The one in particular was the African American literature section. Only being privy to an assorted exposure during Black History Month, seeing all of the books written about and by African Americans granted me a sense of privilege for the love of literacy that embodied me this lifetime.
I remember early in my artistic career, realizing that the more I read about my story as an African American woman, the more stories came to mind to write. The stories initially came as poems and then made their way into my love for the theatre and eventually to the world of folklore(ish) fiction. There was an inclination and desire to connect my life to that of family and me growing into womanhood. Perhaps my earlier literary experiences with being able to connect with the family tales and growing woes of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I could relate to the stories even with the obvious time and lifestyle differences.
When I saw the above quote by Toni Morrison, it made me think of the current selection of urban books available in mass production and the writing in today’s music world. I ask, “where is the creativity? where is the connectedness? where are you ‘familiarizing the strange and mystifying the familiar’?” The “keeping it real” campaign has artists settling for $5,000 today instead of linking their work to the literary world for a lifetime.
I insist on a higher re-education campaign for today’s literary world and women in particular. Read, read, read and then read more before you settle down to write. Remember, writer’s that write are writer’s that read.