Artist's Responsibility

Toni Morrison & Angela Davis – The Purpose of Freedom

Toni Morrison and Angela Davis

I am reminded of the tremendous work Morrison accomplished as an editor at Random House. During her tenure she published Toni Cade Bambara and Angela Davis.

“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’”

Reviewing, Writing

Twenty-Five Cent Words

Reviewing another writer’s work is a great responsibility. One of the greatest ones, I think, is my responsibility as a reviewer to understand what a writer is trying to say and how they are trying to say it. Need I say that whether I like the work or not is irrelevant? I’m not sure I like Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. That it is a work of genius I have no doubt.

Some writers use multisyllabic words (i.e. twenty-five cent words) in their prose. Others do not. But I take it as article of faith that if a writer uses a twenty-five cent word, or, god forbid, a fifty-cent word, they do so for very good reasons. As a reviewer

Thus the responsibility as a reviewer falls to me look the word up in the dictionary. A review comment that goes “you use twenty-five cent words when ten-cent words will do” smacks of a horribly, lazy kind of anti-intellectual arrogance. Words contain both rhythm and meaning. In the case of verbs, our English language contains words with tremendous nuance. A character can gallop, prance, traipse and slink. Each word conveys a different meaning, far richer than walked like a horse, walk with high, springy steps, to walk around aimlessly yet seemingly with purpose and to walk furtively.

As a reader, I take no offense when an author uses a word I don’t know. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll look it up while reading. If not, I’ll note it and review the definition at a later time. I never feel that the author has somehow broken some secret covenant with the me that says the author shall never remind me that I don’t know everything. Nor do I feel the author lords his intelligence over me when she uses a word like mendacious.

If a reader refuses to look up a word in the dictionary, as writers that is not our concern. But as reviewers we have an obligation to look up the damn word! When we do, we learn a new word for our own writing; but, more importantly, we come just that much closer to being better reviewers.

A critique that scolds the writer for using words the reviewer doesn’t understand – and is too lazy to look up in the dictionary – says everything about the reviewer and nothing about the writer. Which means the reviewer has not helped the writer at all .I’ve wasted her time because she has had to read my stupid, helpless review.

As writers we are in this big, crazy thing together. Respect should be a given. Part of respect is humility. A writer who refuses to review definitions of unknown words is a writer who has ceased to grow and is now trite.

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Toni Morrison & Alice Walker – There are Only Black People

morrison and walker

“I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked [James] Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That’s what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say ‘people,’ that’s what I mean.” – Toni Morrison

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A FtM in a Pink-Ruffled Shirt Drives Into a Truck Stop

Photo by Jeff Turner (Santa Clarita, CA)

I’m delighted to share with you some exciting news.

Late last year, I began the process of submitting several non-fiction pieces to top- and middle-tiered journals. The end result to date has been more rejections than acceptances and a whole lot of personal growth!

But, even with the near-unlikelihood of acceptance for all writers (something like 1%), I’ve had my first piece accepted.

A Pink-Ruffled Shirt Makes the Man has found a home at The Nervous Breakdown.

I’m thrilled, delighted and proud. In fact I can only feel more proud if you would be willing to take a few moments to read it. It’s flash non-fiction; less than 750 words to be exact.

Thank you for your support. Keep being creative.