27 July 2014

Reading Women

Sometime in February, after an online discussion with a friend, I made a decision to read only female authors in 2014.  I’m about six months into my pledge, and while I’ve made a three exceptions (to read works by colleagues of mine and the book I was giving away for World Book Night 2014), it’s been pretty eye-opening.  The whole point of reading women exclusively was to draw attention to my choices, my own attention, certainly.  But perhaps yours, too.

Women make up approximately fifty percent of the world’s population, and yet even in a nation with as much opportunity as the United States, female authors are not on equal footing with their male counterparts.  These charts by VIDA show the disparity in many mainstream literary journals as well as some journals who have a more balanced record of publication for 2013.

What’s the big deal?  The publication of women in literary journals is not going to solve world hunger, say, or create world peace, right?  But what happens when diverse voices are not heard?  What happens when those voices are blocked out, or go unacknowledged, or are silenced altogether?  What happens when books are banned, or even worse, burned?  We can collectively agree that burning books accompanies the darkest times in human history, that much besides knowledge is lost when idealogues like the Taliban or the Nazis determine what is appropriate.  But there are other ways in which voices are silenced, too, and they are more insidious, and therefore, we are less likely to recognize their danger.

With forces like these at work, we have responsibilities to seek out other perspectives, and we should also be called to answer (not just ask) what is lost when voices are silenced?  What might I learn, about my world and about myself, if I took a year to read women only?  And so I chose to read women’s stories, poems, and nonfiction. 

At first, in some small way, it seemed stifling to limit myself.  There are so many wonderful stories out there in the world, I bargained, why limit yourself?  As an English major in college, so much of my reading had been dictated.  I wanted to choose for myself!  And yet, as the months went on, my choices seemed to grow.  Books that I’d had in my to-read lists for years seemed to bubble, finally, to the top.  I found myself taking a chance on a book simply because it had been written by a woman.  I sought new writers and began to pay more attention to gender in other areas of life.  I’ve read some fantastic books this year, many that shook my world in some way – enlightening, disturbing, enraging, inspiring.

Already I am considering ideas for another reading challenge for 2015:  Americans only?  Works in translation only?  Men only?  By choosing to tune into specific voices, I began to hear them.  It seems obvious, but it is only when we choose to listen that we can truly hear the stories that are being told, and in doing so we see connections that have always been there.  There is true wisdom to be gained by seeing from perspectives that are different from our own, different from what is typically presented to us, and making choices that allow other voices to be heard.

14 July 2014


If you haven’t yet read I Am Malala, the powerful memoir of Malala Yousafzai, I urge you to do so.  July 12, her birthday, has been proclaimed Malala Day.  This year she turned seventeen, and I wish her the happiest of days and a long, productive life, inshallah.  On 9 October 2012, Malala was shot, along with two of her friends, by a Talib who intended to kill her as a warning to girls seeking education.  Fortunately, she survived and recovered, and has become an international leader intent on razing the roadblocks that prevent females from reaching their potential.  You can hear her speech to the United Nations here.

Across the globe, girls struggle to become educated, sometimes due to political and cultural issues, sometimes due to poverty, or lack of trained teachers or lack of matierals.  In Malala’s hometown, her father was a prominent educator who bucked tradition by celebrating the birth of his daughter, and then further insisted on opening a school for girls where Malala and her classmates thrived and challenged one another to reach their goals.  Their drive and desire to learn was not stopped by threats of death and acts of violence.  Malala’s father was once asked why his daughter was so strong, what had he done that had given her such strength?  His answer was that he did not clip her wings.

What lessons can we take from the story of Malala and her father?  How can we do the same, not only for one another but also for ourselves?  How can we avoid having our wings clipped, when the most pernicious threat is ourselves?  In what ways do we permit our passions and goals to fall into shadow because they are too bold, too dangerous, too ‘out there’?  How can we find our way when we don’t know the path or where no path exists?  Illuminate your way with beacons like Malala, and never forget that reaching the mountain top is only ever done with small, steady steps.

08 July 2014

Summer Storm

It’s awfully dark
for mid-afternoon,
the sun’s power
muted by a dull
grey.  The strength
of the storm
has moved on,
grumbles of thunder
carelessly tossed over
its shoulders as
it exits the valley.
Birds dart and swoop
again, dodging raindrops.
Syncopated drips score
the window, open
to admit the chilled
breeze perfumed with
bruised mint and basil.