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Standin' on the Backs of Our Mothers

"What do you think would be her surprise, if the world was as willing as she was able?"
- Lyrics and song, Oughta Be a Woman by Sweet Honey in the Rock, "Good News"

I have waited my whole life for the opportunity to become a writer. I do not know why it comes now, in the autumn of my life, but it comes and I embrace it with every fiber of my being. I thought my artistic expression to tell "story" would find voice and venue when I first discovered Virginia Woolf’s work in college, because my greatest desire was to write books for a living.

Even before I knew the name, the writer, the author, Virginia Woolf, I was drawn to read her book, "A Room of One’s Own." It was really that book that touched me in such a profound way. Virginia knew the heart and matter of a woman writer. Her book gave me hope. She knew. And now I knew she knew what stirred in the chambers of my own heart. That was almost two decades ago. She was the first of my writing mentors.

That glorious college semester with Virginia Woolf taught me much about writing. Her writing was like nothing else I had read in literature. She wrote from the inside out, the way we truly live in this physical existence. She expressed how our lives are experienced; how our inner lives of our thoughts, our beliefs, our fears, our awareness and consciousness are housed in the clothing of flesh and bones. It was here in this inner world of words that she showed me where the writer truly lives and what the writer draws upon to tell her stories. That inner world wafts in and throughout all things. It manifests our human existence into form. Virginia’s writing style gave me a glimpse of how she saw reality: a quantum physics view with string theory realities. Her books revealed the inner reality we experience in molecules of thoughts and beliefs strung together like particles of dust in time _ past, present, future. I knew her work represented a new type of literature. She told "story" from a different horizon of perception.

What was so profoundly mystical about my introduction to Virginia’s work was the awareness that my own writing was coming from a place I could not name. That early summoning to read, gather, contemplate and meditate, to write aided me in finding the vastness of my own inner worlds. It was the fertile ground of my foundation as a writer and a spiritual human being.

It was here that I wrote about my own dragons, sometimes friend, sometimes foe; where I discovered the shadowy two-leggeds of my past and transformed them into story characters clothed in a rainbow of human garments. It was during these early beginnings that I vowed to be like the phoenix. I gathered every writer’s feather to me to better know my craft; I molted, and yes, died to my restricted old ideas of what I believed a writer to be. It was only in my willingness to come up out of my own ashes that I grew in both my craft and my humanity.

If I was to be a writer, a dreamer, a visionary standing ahead of the collective consciousness to birth a new story into the human condition, I must endure. "Who was I to deny the world of my gift?" a friend once asked me. I wondered. Was it really important to the world that I have a room of my own and money to write? Was my gift or anyone else’s gift any greater or lesser in importance in sharing it with the world? Did these gifts really move humanity forward "by their [writers] creative force?"

Virginia Woolf thought so. She verbalized this visionary need for women writers in a time in history when society was significantly starving for women’s views of the world. It still is today.

Without a means to feed that need, most women’s gifts go underground, wither or get passed down to the next generation. They hope for their daughters. Each generation of women writers stands on the backs of the previous generations. I, too, stood on the back of my own mother.

My mother loved to read books. Some said she was a gifted writer. Oral story telling was inbred by generations of Southern voices. Raised in Alabama, she grew up during the 1940’s. While she was young, she was allowed her high, fancy thoughts of writing and reading. Her family and her community encouraged her to do well in school. She was bright. They did not, however, understand that these were real dreams to her, not just some ponderings she would fold into the apron of her life as wife and mother. She was not expected to have dreams or desires to be independent. There were very few opportunities for her to seek out that independence, but during her senior year in high school, my mother’s gift of writing was recognized. Upon graduation from high school, a local newspaper owner awarded a four-year college scholarship to the University of Alabama to her. On her first summer trip away from home, she tasted independence. Before she could begin her first year at college, she discovered she was pregnant with me. It looked like her dreams would never materialize.

But my mother was not bred only by her geography. She was a free thinker. She wanted to accept the scholarship, accept her pregnancy, and go forward with the dreams of her life. But her choices were not supported choices for a young Southern woman living in Birmingham, Alabama. She must marry and give up the scholarship. She had neither freedom of thought, money, nor a room of her own. She counted on her daughter to carry the gift and the vision of freedom forward.

And so I have, but not out of obligation. At the age of two, I learned the alphabet. I immediately started teaching it to my older cousins. My mother read books to me all the time. I grew to love books and stories. Writing was the next natural step for me to respond to the world. It gave me a sense of wonder, discovery, possibility, voice, and creative expression. It fired my passions and showed me the back alleys of my unresolved stories. I would write, but not for anyone else. I would write because it was the most natural thing in the world for me to connect my presence with the divine.

I have spent a lifetime writing in the corners, on kitchen tables, library desks, front car seats, beds by hand, then typewriters, and finally using computers. I have read my words in coffee houses, libraries, writer’s groups and workshops, literary gatherings and public radio - all to feed my soul.

So, here you are again, Virginia, asking me what the soul of my knowledge is and if I knew, would I share it with the world through my words? Yes, of course.

"What do you think would be her surprise, if the world was as willing as she was able?"

I don’t know, but I’m willing to find out.

Click the links to read samples of new writers' work:



  Pillar of Fire
Standin' on the Backs of Our Mothers
The Third Miracle
  Max & Ella - A Love Story




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