Why read memoirs by Black authors? 

I received this question from a fellow writer a few days ago.

My first reaction was, are you kidding? 

Then I remembered the wisdom of a dear writing friend: Check yourself, she said. She may not know. 

The question came from a writer whose work I respect, someone who’s faced a fair amount of her own hardship.

I was reminded of the painful comments and jokes friends make about OCD that that have had my head flaming.

It took me a long time to learn that people don’t understand because they don’t know.

They’re not stupid or ignorant or mean. They simply do not know.

I began my own memoir as an attempt to bridge the knowledge gap about OCD. To educate and to advocate.

Maybe you have a similar desire to explain something that has effected your life, but is overlooked by the common culture.

Getting back to the topic at hand, why take a class because the authors we are studying are Black? 

1) If you’ve studied with me before, you know I only assign great books. If we take race out of the equation, I’ve got three great books for you read and learn from. Period.

2) In the twenty plus years I’ve studied with Natalie Goldberg, I’ve learned that you read outside your own experience, not because you will write about it, but because it informs who you are as a human. And you write from your own humanity.  

3) Because this country is in the midst of a reckoning about systemic racism. And while I take to heart the memes about white people forming reading groups (and I recognize that not all of my readers are white) rather than taking action, when you read about an individual life, you can see it and feel it and know the many ways systemic racism affects the lives of Black citizens. Hopefully, that leads to greater engagement. 

By the way, for my white readers, I have a list of actions that white allies can take on my Facebook page.

4) While not every memoir written by a Black author is about adversity, many are. If you want to write about adversity in your own life, no matter what the color of your skin, these authors are your role models. They are your teachers in art and in life. And we treat our teachers with reverence. That is one reason that close reading is a spiritual practice.

It is an honor and privilege to read the writers I’ve chosen for my upcoming course. They labored over their words so that we might understand and be better humans.

Who else is ready to read along? Registration here

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