Like many authors, I’ve always loved reading and writing. The only thing I’d say I love more would be music, which speaks to the soul vibrationally. Personally, I’d say that writing does the same. I could list numerous authors and their works across various genres that I’ve loved over the years, but there are three that stand out for two reasons – Alice Walker, James Baldwin, and Virginia Woolf.
Before I even knew anything about myself as a young girl, I knew I loved reading just like my mother. What little girl didn’t want to be just like their mother? That is before we became teenagers and wanted to believe we were hatched from pods. I wanted to sing, and I loved reading and writing like her. When she brought home a copy of The Color Purple by Alice Walker, I loved the color. I loved the cover. Mom had a strict rule about reading the book before seeing the movie, hence why she’d purchased the book and started reading it on her day off from work.
Mom ended up getting the movie on VHS tape (such ancient media for some of you, I’m sure) and wanted to watch it. Of course, I was shooed outside because of its adult language and content. And, I ended up finding it and sneaking to watch it anyway, but not before reading the book first many years later. I was enthralled with the way this world unfolded right before my eyes before I bothered to press play on the VCR. Moreover, I could relate to the characters, despite not being from the South or even living during that era. I especially related to Celie and Shug at a time when I was trying to figure out who I was and how to fit in, even though I didn’t and still don’t.
Identifying parts of myself in the works of James Baldwin makes him a favorite of mine as well. Growing up in a big city and being force fed religion as a steady, unhealthy diet were all parts of my own experience growing up in the 80s and 90s. In addition to those factors, like Walker, I could see the unfolding of parts of society that I now know as toxic within the pages of Baldwin. Sex and sexuality, religion, moral hypocrisy, societal expectations based on gender, etc. Like Baldwin writes in Go Tell It on the Mountain, I thrived in church mainly because I deathly afraid of ending up like the smokers, drinkers, gamblers, thugs, and hookers on the corner. But they sure seemed to be having more fun as far music and laughing and not being so uptight all the time. I never heard any adult in my household and immediate family curse because profanity was the language of those with low intelligence, so saith my grandmother who, ironically, was the one I heard use an infamous compound profane utterance against my grandfather when I was 10 years old. Talk about your hypocrisy! Do as I say and not as I do indeed.
In Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, I had finally gone beyond merely seeking myself in the pages of a work, although as a woman, I saw the experience of gender-based roles in her works also. Woolf made me appreciate craft and caused me to go back reread many of my favorites including the ones I’ve mentioned. The way she used punctuation, space, word choice and order, rhythm, sentence structure, and point of view (POV), I knew that I had found a kindred spirit to show me that I could bend the standard rules of writing. The naturally rebellious sort that I am, Virginia Woolf was the catalyst that made me try different things in my writing, like POV and creating strong characters and demonstrating rather than telling their motivations. While the first two writers showed me that my voice and storytelling matters, Woolf showed me that I could find ways to make it as unique as the oral tradition handed down from my grandmother.
Writing is such a multi-purpose activity for me as I’m sure it is for many other writers and authors. It’s a way to express yourself and to be of service to humanity. How? Because just as it is vital to use your voice, it is equally as necessary to help someone else find the strength in using theirs to help uplift the planet. For me, there is no greater purpose.