Writing with Courage

Harriet Jacobs, author of The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Too often, we allow our daily responsibilities to stifle our creativity. From the journal writer to the published novelist, I believe this statement to be true.

I often reflect on the writing of those who came before us, particularly women and people of color who wrote in the face of extreme danger and potential death. Writers like Harriet Jacobs, an escaped slave who wrote the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, addressed in her writing the harsh realities of slavery. The publication of Jacobs’ narrative, as well as others works like Frederick Douglass’ The Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass, put them at risk for recapture or death, as well as risked the lives of the slaves who still remained in bondage.

Fast-forward more than a century to 1997: When I entered graduate school, I met a woman who we will call Janice. After raising her children, she decided to return to school to finish her bachelor’s degree. Over time, her husband became jealous of the time she spent in school studying and writing about literature. To show his dissatisfaction with her love for all- things literature, he burned her books and threatened to harm her if she stayed in school. Thankfully, she got out of that abusive relationship and eventually received a PhD in English.

Frederick Douglass, author of A Narrative in the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, author of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Though real, Jacobs, Douglass, and Janice’s experiences are some of the worst examples of how people have written (and in Janice’s case, still write) in the face of fear and danger. Although I have never had to write under such circumstances, I still know what it is like to write in fear. For me, like many of you, we write with the fear of failure.

I had a professor tell me once that I was not a solid writer (in words that were not thoughtful). At another time she said that I was so bad that she didn’t know how to work with me, so she would have to step down from my committee. While working with her, however, she criticized my writing (and in some cases me as a person) to such an extent that I felt incapable of constructing a coherent sentence. In many ways, my interaction with her silenced me as a writer.

It is this type of criticism of my writing that I often hear whispering in my ear every time I pick up a pen (yes, I still write drafts out!). I recognize that I do not write in the face of potential death as many people who came before me did. And, I do not write in the face of abuse as some still do today. It does, however, take courage for me to write. Each time I write a blog and hit the post button, it will feel as if I have taken one step forward to freeing myself from the negative academic past that has been an impediment to me finding peace and happiness in writing.

Write on . . .

Tell me, courageous writers, what are you overcoming to write?

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4 thoughts on “Writing with Courage

  1. Deep down (and on the surface too) you think of yourself as a writer, so the negative comments struck you at your core. The prof saying those things doesn’t make them true though. I don’t know if you will always hear that voice whispering disapproval. But if you listen closely, there is another voice–a small, still voice whispering inspiration and approval. Just keep on writing because every word is a triumph over the negative feelings. As my mother says, “One monkey don’t stop no show.”

    • You are absolutely right! Writing, for me, make a way out of no way. What I mean by that is, it helps me to make sense out of the senseless. I will continue to write in spite of . . . well, a lot of things and people.

  2. this has to do with a matter of courage . let me tell you that no matter what you want to do, the most important thing you have to bear in mind is courage. The voice you hear that sounds clearly is the voice which wants to prevent you from reaching your target. Do you think that those authors you mentioned listened to their opponent voice? Of course No. they were determined, and even so determined that they could not be stopped by hunger nor by their oppressors. Do you want to convey messages, emotions, feelings to us readers? Then , Go ahead.

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