Booknotes: Writing Women’s Lives

Writing Women’s Lives is an anthology of autobiographical writing of fifty American women writers spanning the entire twentieth century — the first writer here was born in 1860 and the last in 1962. In introducing us to these writers, Susan Cahill, the editor/anthologist, described how their cultural and socio-economic diversity makes them a pleasure to read while also busting many myths around the phenomenon of “woman writer.” And I believe that we, women writers of today, need our models to turn to from time to time — if not to emulate, then to see how we are or could be different. Benchmarks, if you will, that show us whether we have managed to move beyond the traditions set by our predecessors. We also need to know and appreciate the powerful sisterhood to whom we owe so much. Continue reading Booknotes: Writing Women’s Lives

Writing Practices: On Writing Vignettes

The word “vignette” originates from the French “vigne,” which means “little vine” and refers to the vine motifs used sometimes as decorative embellishments to a text. Put a pin in that phrase “decorative embellishments to a text” because we’re going to come back to it. There is a fair bit of conflicting commentary regarding vignettes. Some people refer to short stories or flash fiction as vignettes. Often, a personal essay is described as a vignette. These are not entirely accurate. For me, short stories and flash fiction are about complete stories with the classic story elements of protagonist, antagonist, conflict, complications, resolution, and so on. A personal essay may or may not be a vignette. So let’s explore this narrative form today and see how it is different from these various other forms of writing. Continue reading Writing Practices: On Writing Vignettes

Booknotes: The Bluest Eye

With ‘The Bluest Eye’, Morrison wanted to explore racial self-contempt and how that comes about in us. In the late-60s, when the idea of different kinds of racial beauty was just beginning to be properly articulated and accepted, she wanted to show, through the life of a twelve-year-old girl, Pecola, how concepts like “ugly” become personal and how they shape personality and, therefore, life. Throughout, Morrison has also scrutinized the effects of religion, shame, classism, colonization (of the mind), gender politics, incest, child molestation, etc. To avoid dehumanizing those responsible for creating this kind of mindset in a child, Morrison has given us complex, layered characters who are, to me, almost Dickensian. I say “almost” because it is when describing the worst things that happen to or are done by some of these characters that Morrison surpasses Dickens’ pathos. Her truth is searingly honest but kind, and her kindness carefully extends to both the flaws and the virtues of these men and women. Dickens showed us who people are or can be; Morrison shows us who we are or can be. Continue reading Booknotes: The Bluest Eye

International Women’s Day 2017: #BeBoldforChange

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been highlighting an interesting, lesser-known woman on this particular day. Why? Mostly for the same reason that we mark this particular day: to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women. The 2017 theme for IWD is #BeBoldForChange. So, this year, I’d like to share the story of Noor Inayat Khan — a bold, badass woman I read about last year. She was also featured on Public Radio International earlier this year as the “Indian spy princess who died fighting the Nazis.” She was a Muslim. A refugee. A princess. A guerrilla fighter, trained in bomb-making, sabotage and secret communications. But above all, she was a war hero. Continue reading International Women’s Day 2017: #BeBoldforChange

5 short stories

Top Five Short Story Reads From February 2017

Over the past month, I focused on writers from the seven countries that were/are on the US Travel Ban list. Most of them are, of course, Arabic language writers, so I am thankful to be able to find English translations free online. I got the idea from Asymptote Journal’s project to collect writing from these banned countries. Their special feature issue, with at least two stories from each, will be out in April 2017. Though the list below is rather male-centric — because we are dealing, mostly, with highly patriarchal cultures — I have searched harder to get some women writers too. So here are stories from: Goli Taraghi (Iran); Hassan Blasim (Iraq); Hisham Matar (Libya); Nuruddin Farah (Somalia); Leila Aboulela (Sudan); Zakaria Tamer (Syria); and Nadia Al-Kokabany (Yemen). Continue reading Top Five Short Story Reads From February 2017