Writing and Living

In remembered rapture the writer at work, bell hooks explains the importance of writing as a process whereby she grapples with words in order to come to a clearer understanding of herself and the world around her. This process comes to her through both creative and non-fiction writing. Indeed, she writes that the distinction between "creative" and "non-fiction" writing is irrelevant. While hooks has come to prominence as a writer of non-fiction--of feminist, social, and cultural criticism -- she also, and perhaps foremostly, writes poetry and other "creative" writing. What is important, she believes, is that writing reflects a critical, imaginative, and explorative consciousness.
I have always been fascinated with reading literature of all sorts, but only recently did I realize that a major reason for my interest in literatures is in discovering the consciousness behind the writing. Whatever the subject or genre may be, all good writing is a product of the writer -- exhibiting style, reasoning, and passion. Critical reading -- analyzing how and why the author writes in addition to what -- forces me to develop my own critical thinking so that I can present my own ideas in writing. While I find that writing for classes is often an arduous task, I never fail to feel a deep satisfaction in reading the final product. In turn, writing is often a stepping stone for me to further critical discussion on those ideas with other people. I find that this discussion clarifies my own thinking, sometimes altering it to accommodate various views I had neglected before.
As an English major in college, I was drawn to a variety of courses in various literary periods of American and English history. Each period or genre's ideas resonated with me in some way or another -- evidence of the greatness of the works, I suppose. Yet, what remains most compelling to me is the work of contemporary American and Caribbean writers. Perhaps it is because their work seems the most immediate -- because I can more readily engage these authors' ideas as living, breathing words. The works of writers like Jamaica Kincaid, bell hooks, Maxine Hong Kingston, Shani Mootoo, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, Sarah Schulman, Shulamith Firestone, Kate Millet, and others create for me a space of thinking about the world in which we live that I would never have been able to articulate on my own. In particular, these authors are for me a powerful feminist influence. My own radical feminist inclinations remained murky and undefined until I was able to engage these others' ideas and writings.
The power of critical reading and writing, more than just reaching an understanding of self and society, is in the creation of meaning where once there was only silence and invisibility. The work of these authors I named made it possible for me to express various aspects of my own identity, including ethnicity and sexuality. They made it possible not through simple will -- not just because they existed -- but because I made the effort of placing myself in their work, in reading actively. My critical interpretations of Kincaid and Mootoo's novels, for example, put me in the position of questioning my own place in a postcolonial context -- bringing the ideas of exile, of home, and of gender identity to the forefront of my consciousness. The exegesis of these works is a living process for me. In more ways than one, I begin to live as a part of their works, as the works make their way into my life and the way I see things. I imagine that how I read their novels must be like how these authors wrote them -- through a process of discovery and recovery.
In addition to expanding my knowledge of anglophone writings through the centuries, I wish to study specifically the work of feminist writers and the lives of these writers. Questions that I ask myself are, What were the conditions and situations in which these women and men wrote? How was their work received? What were their reasons for challenging the status quo of sexual politics? As radical feminist visionaries realize, feminist concerns and revolution must necessarily alter the very basis of society and the way women, men, and children relate to each other. The written word has been and will continue to be an important part of the imminent changes that feminists have foreseen. These changes -- towards a more egalitarian world free of sexual inequalities -- are inevitable as we all progress towards a more humane understanding of each other as humans. The layers of consciousness created by feminist writers through the centuries have constructed just such a space for understanding. In these words, in their interpretations, I hope that we will all one day see just what utopia we can truly create together a better world.

December 1999 : Brooklyn, NY