From Our Eyes is a new blog series showcasing Wilkinson faculty and students’ first-hand accounts of their undergraduate and graduate experiences. In this first installment, we hear from two students in the MFA English Program, Tryphena Yeboah and Esther Shin, who were invited to attend a conference on female writers.
When we received confirmation that we had been selected as Emerging Writers to participate in the Long Beach Literary Women’s Festival of Authors, we were filled with so much anticipation for what the day would hold. We were certainly expectant of meeting women writers who are not only dominating the literary scene, but also using their gifts as a radical tool to debunk myths and challenge the narrative.
The conference, which was held at the Long Beach Convention Center, was a cultural forum to celebrate women writers, increase exposure to their excellent creative works, encourage new writers like us eager to learn and grow our skill.
Among the authors who graced the occasion were Delia Owens, Elaine Weiss, Karen Walker, Whitney Scharer and Louisa Hall. We had the honor to be seated with Catherine Chung and Casey Cep, authors of The Tenth Muse and Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee respectively, both of whom shared their passion for the craft and the persistence that a life of writing demands.
In her talk, Catherine Chung described the writing of a book as an intellectual endeavor. She shared personal experiences of how she had to resist stories that had been passed on to her and, in doing that, broke limitations on her own imagination. “There are stories that perpetuate romantic ideals and shape our reality,” she said. “There are histories that are hidden and lost from us and still hugely impact the trajectory of our lives. It is important to imagine the existence of a story beyond what we’ve been told.”
Elaine Weiss shared her motivation to write as the unknown: “I want to write what I don’t know. Explore and reveal to readers what is unexpected.” It was inspiring to see the responsibility with which she wielded her skill towards causing a cultural shift. She explained, “In writing, the personal becomes political. I want to describe women leaders in all their complexities, their drive, their personal experiences. To bring to light not only their bravery but their womanhood, to bring them to life in a way that they’re not.”
During the break-out session, we were honored to join a small group of women attendees and listen to author of The Far Field and recipient of Pushcart Prize, Madhuri Vijay, who gave a short presentation on the irrational Impulse towards Creation. We were both stunned by themes she touched on and the honesty with which she shared her story, particularly in the publishing world where writers like herself are often restricted and influenced by market pressures in the creative process.
Narrowing on the common question creatives are often asked – “Why do you write?” – Vijay revealed how the question renders the writing process as constrained, unnatural. Regarding it as a question of classification rather than motivation, she brought to bear how in giving reason, writers provide the sole lens through which their work is marketed and bought.
Vijay encouraged us to disallow simplification: “The academic discipline streamlined by utilitarian approach pushes for reason to justify, to lend the sheen of value of our work. Our culture encourages the tendency of simplification which emphasizes the hook of a novel, its central issue rather than the complex, nuanced nature of the entire work. To know the reason one writes will result in the impoverishment and limitations of one’s work. We must disallow simplification and insist on ambiguity. I want to follow all my impulses, to write with my sense of mystery intact, open to all forms of possibilities a book has to offer.”
This was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the responsibility that writing demands and the courage to challenge any limitation that gets in the way of our pursuit to creative freedom. We are so grateful to Wilkinson College, the Emerging Writers’ committee of the Long Beach Literary Women’s Festival, and especially to Professors Anna Leahy and Jan Osborn for offering us the chance to participate in this conference.
If you are a student or faculty member interested in submitting a piece about an academic experience for ‘From Our Eyes’, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.