Write Because You Love Writing

Women writers conference brings award-winning authors

Wikipedia is not a valid source when you’re writing academic papers, or newspaper articles, but it is a source of controversy when it comes to women writers. Recently author Amanda Filipacchi was on Wikipedia when she noticed the category “American Novelists” was losing the women that had been listed on it. The women were being moved to a subcategory, “American Women Novelists,” as if they were a genre, like crime fiction, not writers on par with men. Women including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ayn Rand and Harper Lee “have been relegated to the ranks of ‘American Women Novelists’ only, and no longer appear in the category ‘American Novelists,’” Filipacchi wrote in a The New York Times op-ed April 24.

Instances such as this remind us that glass ceilings still exist, for women and for others, but American Book Award-winning author Ruth Ozeki says luckily for her the glass ceiling for women writers is different than for women who want to be CEOs. “Women have always been watchers and storytellers; that’s kind of our power position, too. It’s not a bad position to be in if you happen to be a writer; if you want to be a CEO of a large corporation, it’s harder.” She adds when it comes to writers, “I’m not saying it’s not there; we know there are still inequities there.”

“As a woman, as a Japanese-American-Canadian writer — I’m collecting hyphens,” she laughs — “I move around and that keeps me on the edges of things. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be in the middle; I’ve grown to appreciate this marginalism.”

Ozeki, who is a filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest as well as the author of three novels, A Tale for the Time Being, All Over Creation and My Year of Meats, is coming to Eugene May 9-11 with a host of other writers for the UO’s Center for the Study of Women in Society’s second annual CSWS Northwest Women Writers Symposium. The symposium, held together with the Eugene Public Library, features women novelists, poets, essayists and playwrights including Cai Emmons, Lauren Kessler, Cecelia Hagen and Debra Gwartney, to name only a few.

Kessler is author of several books, including one forthcoming in June: Counterclockwise: My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones, Dark Chocolate and Other Adventures in Anti-Aging. She says, via email from Europe where she’s been teaching another workshop, that her Saturday, May 11, workshop at the downtown Eugene library, “Crafting a Writing Life: A Real Writer is One Who Really Writes” is from a poem by Marge Piercy.

Kessler says that Piercy goes on to write, “Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.” According to Kessler “Discipline is a challenge for anyone, regardless of gender. But — in general — women’s plates seem a bit fuller than men’s, their time more fragmented, their focus more often on others.” So finding a room of one’s own and time is “more of a challenge if one is lucky enough to be born female.”

Kessler says she thinks storytelling comes naturally to people: “I do think that some of us love to play with words from a very early age and get great pleasure from the experiences of reading and writing.” She continues, “I think you can get better and better and better at writing but I don’t think a person who is not in love with words can ‘develop’ as a writer. I also think some aspects of writing can be learned but not taught.  It pains me to say that, as I teach writing — but it’s true.”

Ozeki will not be leading one of the workshops — she’s on two panels and will be giving a reading and book signing 7 pm Friday, May 10, at the EMU on the UO campus — but she does have advice for aspiring writers: “Develop love and patience for the process itself.”

Ozeki, who wrote, then threw out, hundreds of pages of A Tale for the Time Being as she wrote it, asks, “Why are people so impatient these days? Writing is rewriting; that’s what it’s all about.” She says, “There are many people in the world who want to have written. They approach the page for the wrong reasons.” They want to write the great American novel, but not so much to write it, but to have finished it already, she says. “They don’t write for the process of pushing words on the page, moving commas around. You really don’t know where you are going; you are waiting to find out.”

The CSWS women writers symposium kicks off May 9. For a full list of the events — which are free — go to csws.uoregon.edu. Pre-register for limited spaces for the Saturday afternoon workshops at: 682-5450 (press 2 at the prompt)