Posts Tagged ‘mixed-race’

  • RESPONSIBILITY

    Date: 2016.03.20 | Category: Book in Progress 2016, Book Reviews, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    NOTE:  this is another in a series of  chapter drafts to be included in the book ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO WRITING:  A MIXED-RACE WRITER’S JOURNEY  (tentative title).  This particular chapter took me in a direction I wasn’t planning on traveling, thus the road is windy and full of rocks-the key word as always, draft (and why when I cut and paste does the formatting change?).

    RESPONSIBILITY

    In the beginning of any particular semester, I might ask my students what is the responsibility of a writer?—not if a writer has responsibility.  I might ask them to read “The Creative Process” by James Baldwin (Creative America, 1962), the poem “Responsibility” (New and Collected Poems) Grace Paley, and/or  “Meatloaf: A View of Poetry” by Nikki Giovanni (Racism 101, William Morrow and Company, Inc.).  Discussions are generally mild, and don’t go beyond two pat answers:  to entertain and to tell the truth.

    I’m not interested in writing to entertain, perhaps because my sense of humor is limited, my ability to write humorously is deficient (though I’ve been told my writing is often sassy or witty)—and what I write about, my life, is too serious to joke around with (granted some comedians can put a comedic twist on anything with grace, others not so much).

    However, as Joy Harjo states in The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (First published as a Norton paperback, 1996):

    If I am a poet who is charged with speaking the truth (and I believe the word poet is synonymous with truth-teller), what do I have to say about all of this?

    I believe truth can be expressed in several ways:  metaphor, exaggeration, and plain and simple in-your-face clarity.  Each or all of these forms can be used no matter what genre we are writing in.  Because I began my writer’s journey as a poet, I learned the craft of figurative language and eventually became aware of how I can/how I do use it in my writing.

    A poetry teacher frequently told me my poems are filled with imagery; I had no idea what he was talking about.  Now I realize metaphors and similes create pictures that are understood by way of comparison.  And the magic is that a reader can, and most likely will, transcribe the picture with the help of his/her own experience, so the writer has made a connection beyond his/her reality.

    The more I write, the more I notice I exaggerate the truth.  I am not lying.  It’s like hyperbole.  I am extending concrete fact into superfluous images.  Exaggeration may be expressed as metaphor; for example I’m not like all the Scandinavian friends I grew up with:

    Here I am a Minnesota mutant.

                    Snowflake.  

    Or, as a statement I know isn’t true to fact, but true to the point I want to get across:

    Mother cooked a white rabbit

                    in a black pot.

    Mother never cooked rabbit, but mother who is black, chose to pass as white.  I don’t consider the exaggerated image a lie.

    Or, I use words that play with imagery that exaggerate the meaning:

    My sisters and I rip out the tight stitches, laugh about the alcohol, the men.

    Instead of saying my sisters and I gave up our mother’s control , I use the more visual aspect of stitches which  refer back to earlier in the poem that tells the reader my mother sewed identical clothes for her four daughters.

    Although imagery enlivens a story or poem, I believe if a writer doesn’t want a reader to misinterpret what they’ve written as truth, the writer should be explicit in the language they use.  This type of honesty is so blatant those that can relate will appreciate or be awed by your downright honesty; those that can’t relate will be offended or defensive or apologetic—but, you’re not writing for them, or are you (that’s another discussion)?

    Husbands were always white, always financially able—always available.  They liked me sexy.  They liked me smart.  They liked me domestic.  They liked me drunk.  They were always gratuitous.  I ate meat and potatoes.  I lived in brick houses.  I owned stuff

    …Husband after hedonistic white husband enjoyed associating with me, the marginalized.  Because, of course I was trendy.  Yet each hunkered down, holding their top dog position.

    But, what is it we, as writers, are supposed to tell the truth about?  As a writer trying to discover and make sense of who I am, I had no time for nature poems.  Aren’t there more important stories that need to be told?  Don’t we as writers have the responsibility to tell them?

    The artist cannot and must not take anything for granted, but must drive to the heart of every answer and expose the question the answer hides.—James Baldwin

    It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times:  there is no

                    freedom without justice and this means economic

                    justice and love justice –Grace Paley

    Nikki Giovanni wrote:

    I have seldom read an interesting poem about the discovery of raindrops, or clouds floating by, or sunsets either…

    I hope, … that I am showing my students they must contemplate the world in which they live.  I believe their responsibility as writers is to have as much sympathy for the rich as for the poor; as much pity for the beautiful as for the ugly; as much interest in the mundane as the exotic….Look; allow yourself to look beyond what is, into what can be, and more, into what should be.

    Never say never, my sister always tells me.  When I discovered Mary Oliver’s poems, Linda Hasselstrom’s essays, and Scott Russell Sanders essays, and other writings which do contemplate the world, I knew the responsibility of the writer is also to read and not let our preconceived notions keep us from imagining and knowing a world larger than our own.  However, as I wrote this paragraph I realized I only mentioned white writers who write about nature.  Why haven’t I read nature writing by writers of color?  Subconsciously I probably thought we have more important things to write about—but I immediately Googled what writers of color write about nature?   And despite my bad grammar, here’s the first two entries I found:

    • Colors of Nature Culture, Identity and the Natural World, edited by Lauret E. Savoy, Alison H. Deming (Milkweed Editions; Second Edition edition (February 1, 2011); and,
    • “Toward a Wider View of ‘Nature Writing’” by Catherine Buni, The Los Angeles Review of Books, January 10, 2016.

    Buni writes:

    In 2009, [Camille T.] Dungy published Black Nature, a beautiful, widely influential, and redefining anthology of African-American nature poetry.  Spanning over 400 years, 180 poems by 93 poets…

    But Dungy continues:

    The most vulnerable are the least powerful, so they get the least coverage, and certainly the least precedent-changing publication.

    Thus, We have been contemplating nature and writing about it (or oral story-telling), but access has been limited.

    Now, thanks to my curiosity and Catherine Buni’s in depth essay, I have a few more books to add to my Want to [need to] Read list on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/) —including  Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, by Carolyn Finney (The University of North Carolina Press, June 2014).

    To Lori, a former student, I apologize.  I will not discourage another student from writing nature poems.  Actually, I have written a couple of them myself.

     

     

    Writing Exercise:

     

    1. What do you believe is your responsibility as a writer?
    2. Search through some of your stories and poems to discover how you have crafted truth. Do you use metaphor, exaggeration, or hard honest fact?
    3. Read: read something outside of your interest and, perhaps, comfort zone.

     

    ©Sherry Quan Lee, March 20, 2016

     

     

  • Mixed Race Feminist Blog Interview

    Date: 2016.02.18 | Category: Reading Events and Other News, The Art of Writing | Response: 0

    Check out this fairly recent blog site.  Honored to be interviewed.

    https://mixedracefeministblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/a-mixed-race-feminist-blog-interview-with-sherry-quan-lee/

     

     

     

  •  OBSESSIVE BEHAVIORS: writing the same story over and over again

    Date: 2016.01.21 | Category: Book in Progress 2016 | Response: 1

    OBSESSIVE BEHAVIORS:  writing the same story over and over again

     

    I started writing in second grade, a jingle.  I was paraded from room to room in Standish Elementary School to persuade my peers to give money to public television, or some such cause.  In fifth grade, some of us were cool enough to be poets and produced a mimeographed collection of our rhymes.  Seventh grade was more serious.  Our journal contained stories and poems.  In high School, for me, it was cool to be in the Creative Writing Club and hang out with intellectuals, not that I was one (but there was that one boy I had a crush on).  However, skipping past more solitary and juvenile attempts at writing, my epiphany came when I was in my thirties.

    I980s: I attended community college, enrolled in my first Women’s Studies Class (Women in Literature) and my first academic class in the writing of poetry.  The Women in Literature class required us to go to a bookstore.  I went to Amazon Bookstore, Minneapolis’ independent bookstore, the first lesbian/feminist bookstore in the U.S. according to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Bookstore_Cooperative).  With curiosity, I examined categories of books, naïve, but on a mission, it dawned on me— I was missing. 1980’s and a mixed-race-passing-for white-woman was not on the shelf.  I went home and wrote, basically a chap book of poems, about me.

    My self-interest  peaked as I continued my college education , a stop and go experience that began when I was eighteen and ended, at least formally, at 48, to learn all I could about race, gender, sexuality—and oppression.  The more I learned the more I wrote.  But for the most part, I wrote the same story over and over again.  But my undergraduate advisor said that it’s okay.  That most of us have one story we’re obsessed with, one that we can’t stop writing.

    Don’t stop writing yours.  Because you will not be writing it to death; you will be writing it to life.  The more you write the story you’re obsessed with, the more it will evolve. Eventually your story will answer questions you didn’t know you were asking; eventually your story will connect, once it’s out in the world, with other people’s stories and an even larger realm of understanding can take place.

    Also, the more you write that story you’re obsessed with, the better your writing will become.  Better because you will know your story so well that images and words will return time after time, but each time, perhaps in a different context, perhaps surrounded by fresh words that sing or singe.  Richard Hugo acknowledges he uses numerous words repeatedly, so do I.  Mine are:  Chinese, Black, mixed race, passing, Mother, mahjong, white rice, South Scandinavian Minneapolis, virgin birth, conjure, and love.

    I do get tired of writing my story over and over again, the story of a Chinese Black girl passing for white, but after forty some years of repeating it, in poetry and in prose, I may have discovered who I am, and I may have finally relinquished the need to know more.  But, maybe not.  Maybe I’ve just found a couple of new obsessions to sidetrack me for awhile: aging and autism.  But they, too, are stories within my story.

    I keep telling myself I’m not a narcissist.  Just because I’ve written about myself for forty some years, doesn’t make me a narcissist-it makes me an activist, according to my friend, Anya. My story, like your story are stories that will help us identify with each other, even if your story is about aliens or robots I think we can find familiarity and hope-as we also acknowledge difference.  As always, I return to Nikki Giovanni:

    “and if ever i touched a life i hope that life knows / that I know that touching was and still is and will always / be the true / revolution”–Nikki Giovanni, “When I Die”

     

    Exercise:  What story are you obsessed with?  What words are you obsessed with?  Keep writing the story; keeping using the words and images that might be haunting you.

     

    ©Sherry Quan Lee, January 21, 2016

  • LOVE IMAGINED: synopsis read at two Book Award Events

    Date: 2015.04.01 | Category: LOVE IMAGINED | Response: 0

    MINNESOTA BOOK AWARDS

    THE LOFT LITERARY CENTER MARCH 20, 2015

    HOSMER LIBRARY MARCH 23, 2015 (36th and 4th Avenue

    by Richard Green School, previously Central High School)

    (Aunt Lucille Wilson Shivers lived on 39th and 4th Avenue.

    Her husband, Spencer Shiver, owned the barber shop on the corner of 38th and 4th Avenue.)

    Doll Buggy

    Once upon a very long time ago there was a princess, Quan Lee, born 1948. Her kingdom was a house on a hill with a white picket fence in South Scandinavian Minneapolis.

    She was Cinderella awaiting her prince. She loved her shoes. She sang to them. Hugged them.

    Maybe she knew that beauty was bound in binding a young girl’s feet; that somehow history had whispered to her it’s always about finding the prince, no matter how painful the journey, no matter how many pairs of shoes it would take.

    Has anyone seen Cinderella’s other shoe?

    Is there a lover in the audience?

    I grew up in South Scandinavian Minneapolis, the Miles Standish neighborhood. Beginning in the 1900s mostly Norwegians and Swedes settled there.

    However, my father is Chinese, my mother is Negro;

    I grew up passing for white.

    My friend Carolyn challenged me on the use of South Scandinavian Minneapolis.   Carolyn was right. She too grew up in South Minneapolis!   She went to Central High School. My cousin Butch went to Central High School. Carolyn had a crush on my cousin. My friend Carolyn, my cousin Butch, my aunt Marion-Black folk- lived in South Minneapolis with other Black folk, unlike me who lived east of whatever line divided us (the line might have been Chicago Avenue or 4th Avenue, or Portland Avenue).

    However, my mother’s relatives could only visit us at night,

    when it was dark and the neighbors couldn’t see them.

    Another frog and another frog. I could only imagine love because…do you remember the saying love sees no color? Well I bought those t-shirts, lots of them, until one day I realized the saying is a sham. Love does see color! If you don’t see me and understand and respect the color that I am, well then, you can’t possibly love me. I am not the white woman, the invisible woman, the exotic woman, the domestic you might need me to be—that my mother needed me to be to protect me and keep me safe.

    I didn’t know about the lack of civil rights: Jim Crow,

    the Klu Klux Klan, race riots in Minneapolis.

    I knew chow mein, white rice, and maj jong.

    I have four siblings.

    Between us there have been 14 divorces.

    Well, what do you know? I have the other shoe. It’s been hidden in my closet for 67 years. I am the prince I was searching for. I am the love imagined. The last therapist I needed to see explained to me that of course I didn’t have any self-esteem, any self-love! How could I love the person I was told wasn’t good enough to be visible—the Black/Chinese girl that had to pretend she was white

    Over the past thirty seven years I have written myself into existence with the help of communities and writers and friends. The Asian American Renaissance. David Mura. Marlina Gonzalez. Elsa Battica. Sun Yung Shin. Ed Bok Lee. Rose Chu. Sase the Write Place: Carolyn Holbrook and Carolyn Holbrook and Carolyn Holbrook. The Loft Literary Center: Bao Phi. Sherrie Fernandez-Williams. AND: Lori Young-Williams. Sandee Newbauer. Barb Bergeron.   Eden Torres. My cousin Jay, his daughter Terri and his wife Shirlee. And the list goes on and on.

    Of course, culturally, I was raised white: I grew up in a Scandinavian neighborhood, went to a white church, went to a white school/I had only white friends. I am learning to embrace being white too.

    With much appreciation, thanks to the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library!

Artist Statement

Sherry Quan Lee approaches writing as a community resource and as culturally based art of an ordinary everyday practical aesthetic. Lee is a Community Instructor at Metropolitan State University (Intro to Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing), and has taught at Intermedia Arts, and the Loft Literary Center. She is the author of A Little Mixed Up, Guild Press, 1982 (second printing), Chinese Blackbird, a memoir in verse, published 2002 by the Asian American Renaissance, republished 2008 by Loving Healing Press, and How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman’s life, Loving Healing Press, 2008.

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SHERRY QUAN LEE

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HOW DARE WE! WRITE

LOVE IMAGINED

CHINESE BLACKBIRD

HOW TO WRITE A SUICIDE NOTE

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