“Earning the Write” will be an on-going series of posts. I have much to say and explore when it comes to the subject of poverty and writing, the writer’s “right,” and the role of narrative in bridging the gap between different socio-economic classes as well as different parts of the self.
Of course, there are many wonderful allegories underscoring the power and importance of storytelling, with my favorite being Frederick by Leo Lionni. If you don’t know this story, it’s a gem, worth your time because of both its message and its artwork. I am grateful to my friend Aisha for introducing me to this story, even reading it to me on a particularly low day. Frederick, a mouse, collects the colors and the warmth of the summer while the other mice collect food for the winter. Then, during the darkest moments of the winter, when the food has run out, Frederick sustains them with stories he saved. It illustrates of the value of the storyteller in society and how story helps sustain us. To be able to tell a good story is both a gift and a responsibility.
I think of a writer I saw read at The Tattered Cover in Denver, Daniel Villasenor, who had recently been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford’s Creative Writing Program. He felt as though too many of his fellow writers were focused on the fact that they had been accepted into the program, rather than on what their contributions might be. Daniel asserted that writers need to think foremost about their contribution, not just their right to write. This statement resonated so deeply with me. Maybe it’s my working class background, but I believe writers must work diligently on their craft as part of their contribution. And then they need to take it a step further. They need to find a way to improve their communities – perhaps in the form of volunteering, formal or informal mentorship, or organizing events in their area. Earning the write can happen in many forms.
It is possible that being an active member in a community could help offset the ways a writer can slide so easily into isolation. The solitude required to create work can become a cloak of negative seclusion. Getting out in the larger world, helping others, is key to one’s own mental health and to balancing the role of the storyteller. Maybe we could shift into weaving ourselves into a community that needs us, like Frederick.