|Image from the sketchbook of Phoebe Wahl|
I write this to you from chilly but lovely Minneapolis! I’m here for the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference, and it has been wonderful so far.
Yesterday, I attended a panel featuring Brenda Shaughnessy, Camille Rankine, Deborah Landau, and Erin Belieu. These stellar writers read some work, and then discussed a variety of intriguing topics centered mostly around gender and identity.
A couple of inspiring comments/concepts have really stuck with me. An audience member asked the writers about when they first took themselves seriously (or when they felt their voice was significant). I loved their candid responses…a couple of them mentioned how instrumental their families (and mothers) were in providing strong, intelligent, assertive female role models. Brenda Shaughnessy described seeing her mother (for whom English is a second language) constantly treated like an idiot merely for her accent, and how this enraged her and helped to strengthen and form her voice.
I couldn’t help but think of my students. I am constantly trying to tell them that their voice matters, and that what they do with that voice can have real power and consequences.
I also enjoyed the panelists’ discussions about identity and intersectionality. An attendee asked the panelists how conscious they were of their female identity while writing poems. It was a fascinating concept to me. Some of my poems feel firmly rooted in my identity, but more often, I feel I am engaging my consciousness with language. I realize that my consciousness is indeed shaped by my identity—this was just a thought-provoking idea.
So. May I ask you? When did you first take your own voice seriously? And how important is your identity to your writing, in your view?
[Image above by Phoebe Wahl]