Reflections on a Vocational Happenstance
"Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them,
was often a woman.” -- Virginia Woolf
By some true miracle, some unlikely and inexplicable turn of fate,
I now live in a tiny Catskill town that is a Book Village.
Not only are there six independent bookstores in this town,
but once each year, on the weekend after Labor Day, there is a precious gathering of women, a Festival of Women Writers.
This event celebrates a woman's right to write under her own name on her own terms, without asking permission or offering apology.
As you might imagine, I do not knit much during this weekend; I am too busy being edified.
A variety of workshops are spread over the three days. Veteran writers, pioneers, and trailblazers share their expertise. I don't know of another event that is a better value in terms of opportunity for individual writing enrichment. Those sessions are amazing opportunities for emerging and experienced writers alike. But my favorite parts of the weekend are the public readings.
Four times over the weekend, women writers are given a microphone and the opportunity to speak their words aloud to an attentive, supportive audience. Words on a page are one thing, but words spoken aloud are something more.
Whenever I reflect on these weekends, it is the voices I remember best. Voices raised to speak out and voices responding in affirmation. Voices discussing afterwards, women gathered in groups of two or three or four, inspired by what they've heard, hugging and laughing, exclaiming and questioning, searching and finding.
During these readings, the women who founded the festival and other veteran writers sit and listen, showing respect. But more important -- of paramount importance -- by sitting there, they are protecting the space.
They make it safe for women writers to stand right up at the microphone and say out loud what needs saying. And they make it safe for women to be present, to listen, to bear witness. By sitting there, protecting that space, they are holding the door wide open -- a door they had to jam a foot into just to keep open a crack -- and lighting the way for us all.
Yes, it is the voices I remember when I think of this annual gathering: tremulous voices, enraged voices, sad and tired voices, joyful and free voices.
Strong voices, soft and loud.
Women's voices, raised.