Reading that first chapter, I was so self-conscious. I made him lie down and turn his head away from me. I stopped frequently to ask if he’d fallen asleep. But slowly, as I reached the end of the first chapter of the first novel I’d ever written, I realized that I was enjoying myself. I had put aside the novel draft for a couple of weeks beforehand, and to revisit the characters and world was a treat, and I felt a lovely bond between myself and my first reader, as we both dove into the novel, quite literally on the same page.
Who really gets to imagine? Not just to make things up, but to use imagination to navigate the world? As educational tools, illustrated books that give credence not only to children’s waking, real-world experiences, but also to the transformative power of their play, seem most often earmarked for privileged children, just as, for adults, the writing of fiction rooted in pure invention or methodical research, rather than autobiographical experience, is received most seamlessly when it’s done by white authors.
“Geneticists, after all, are studying to see whether there are genes for empathy. I kept asking myself how people are really wired, what traits from our ancestors we carry. This motif is about all the little things we don’t know or aren’t told, or that are kept from us, but that we carry with us—the pieces of us that feel not right, or that are confusing. I’m very much fascinated with the trauma or grief that’s conceivably locked into our bodies—I believe in all that. And in many ways, those women in my past helped me tell my story. I think about them all the time—the choices they did and didn’t have, and how sad and complicated parts of their lives were. So in some ways I felt like I was writing the book to honor these women in my history.”
Good poetry is good poetry because of who wrote it. If you want to get fancy about it, it’s an index of the culturally defined experiences of the author and the ways that author has taken agency within them, has interacted with his or her own received cultural and historical condition. Poetry isn’t good simply because it has kickass slant rhyme or wicked trippy imagery but because it employs those techniques mimetically to engage heritages and traditions that constitute the wisdom—and oppressions—of most acute concern at a given historical moment.