James Baldwin and the Education of People of Color

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes daily practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week’s quote is from the essayist, poet, novelist, playwright, and social critic, James Baldwin.

“Not a thousand years ago, it was illegal to teach a slave to read.”

— James Baldwin

The first laws prohibiting slaves from being educated were passed in South Carolina in 1740 beyond what was necessary to understand scripture. Other states followed quickly adding fines for anyone caught teaching a slave to read or write and even going so far as to prohibit freed slaves from living in some states in fear they might incite others by educating them and distributing abolitionist materials or ideas. By the 1850s public education for all black people was illegal.

Educated slaves were a threat to white slaveholders. To have slaves reading and reflecting, questioning authority, and getting ideas of rising and rebelling was not to be tolerated.

This discouragement did not end after the emancipation proclamation was signed. There were few schools or teachers available to teach black people, and they were not permitted in white school. What schools were established were poor and largely ignored by the government. It would be almost another 100 years between the signing of the end of the civil war in 1865 and the legal desegregation of schools in 1954. One hundred years of freed slaves and their descendants scraping by the best they could in a world where white people had the advantage.

And not much has changed since. A significant percentage of Black people in this country are illiterate or unable read above a basic level. They say we are all equal now. Legally we all have a right to an education and the same opportunities regardless of race, but anyone with eyes can see it isn’t true.

School in predominately black or poor neighborhoods doesn’t receive the funding needed to educate its student body enough to compete with the richer and often whiter schools.  It is their schools that have less money, fewer teachers, bigger class sizes, and lower graduation rates. Even in the school district, I work for, one of the best in the state and arguably in the country, there is a clear difference between the education and resources received between our predominantly white schools and the ones with a more diverse enrollment.

The same discouragement to educate exists now, black schools are still poor and largely ignored by the government and for much the same reason, to keep the power where the ruling class wants it.

Education carries ideas, ideas about who we are and what life is and should be. Education exposes you to ideas about what happiness is and what suffering is and how we end up with either. Education brings wisdom from the past to the present and cultivates the capacity to imagine a better future for oneself. It puts you into perspectives you might never see from. It makes us want.

Writing means utilizing logic and creativity for more than basic comprehension ideas. It means pulling those perspectives and ideas you encountered apart and recombining them into something new. The power of writing is in its ability to teach you how to think and reveal what you think. Writing makes it possible to share these new ideas and possibilities with others.

Writing gives you an independence that threatens the establishment. Writing lights your soul up, and gives you the power to light another’s, and another’s, and another’s. It gives you a freedom you don’t have to beg for, a freedom you take for yourself. Once writing has happened control is lost. You cannot keep the masses from reading it, and you cannot stop them from spreading it. The end of oppression becomes inevitable.

It can be slowed. A ruling class loathes to give up power, so they find new ways to restrict education. We’ve banned books and burned whole libraries, but the human appetite for knowledge is insatiable and compulsive. It comes naturally to us and is essential for success in our society.

Too many Americans never learn to read or are not taught the joy and power that words and ideas can give them. It’s a damn shame. A shame not only on those in power but on all of us who turn a blind eye.

Someone somewhere at some time thought that too, and it is because of them I can call myself a writer now.  It is because so many people who came before wanted that I have access to so much information and education, often for free and at my leisure. It is because of them that I can contemplate and reflect, forming ideas of my own and share them with you. As a woman and a person of color, I know how lucky I am to have this power. I feel like I owe it to them to wield this power, to practice it and share it. I can’t give in to self-loathing and doubt. I can’t quit or make excuses because that would be a dishonor and a disappointment to their legacy and sacrifice.

Every person who fought to get us here, no matter how small their resistance, performed great acts of courage. Those who still fight are true heroes. I want to be among those heroes.

The conclusion we all have to come to is that literacy is a human right, period! No person sound denied access to a fundamental feature of what it means to be a human being. No other species on this planet has discovered math, reading, or writing; it is our discovery, it belongs to all of us, equally.

We all have access to school, but we don’t have access to the same education. What we have is a deliberate attempt to keep certain groups ignorant and unable to think or think properly, or articulate their needs and imagine solutions to their ills. I say “deliberate” because the news that some schools are failing, are poor, and are overcrowded and understaffed is not news to anyone and yet is still not a problem politicians are willing to fix.

Who better to take up the fight than writers? As a writer, it hurts my heart to know that language is being used as a weapon this way. As a writer yourself, or as an artist or any creative type, you should feel the same. What would life feel like to you if you had been denied the tools to express your hopes, and fears, and dreams? What could a stunted mind imagine or believe in? How might you suffer if you had been kept from words this way?

No one should be denied to opportunity to fall in love with writing. Call you representatives, contribute to local school fundraising efforts, even if your children do not attend. Familiarize yourself with the basic literacy statistics and the reality of black students in public education. Read authors of color, especially women and queer authors of color. Raise awareness. Confront your own racist ideas, even the ones you deny you have.

And finally, make access to the very best education for everyone a moral issue. Make reading, writing and math, a human rights issue. Make it your goal to bring up other artists and writers the way you were brought up, or the way you wish you had been. Make sure they can read the classics, learn the rules, and know that expressing the human condition through fiction, poetry, essays, memoir, and more are noble and fulfilling endeavors. Let them know we need them, their ideas, and their words.

We need more minds lit up and souls burning in all of us.



James Arthur Baldwin was born on August 2, 1924, after his mother, Emma Berdis Jones, left his biological father because of his drug abuse and moved to Harlem, New York City. There, she married a preacher, David Baldwin. The family was very poor. His mother reportedly never told him the name of his biological father.

The oldest of nine children Baldwin spent much of his time caring for his younger brothers and sisters. At the age of 10, he was teased and abused by two New York police officers, an instance of racist harassment by the NYPD that he would experience again as a teenager and document in his essays. His adoptive father, whom Baldwin in essays called simply his father, appears to have treated him—by comparison with his siblings—with great harshness.

Baldwin developed a passion for reading at an early age and demonstrated a gift for writing during his school years. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the school’s magazine with future famous photographer Richard Avedon. He published numerous poems, short stories, and plays in the magazine. At age 14, Baldwin became a preacher at the small Fireside Pentecostal Church in Harlem. In the early 1940s, he transferred his faith from religion to literature. Critics, however, note the impassioned cadences of Black churches are still evident in his writing.

Baldwin’s first and probably best-known novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, a partially autobiographical account of his youth, was published in 1953.  He continued to experiment with literary forms throughout his career, publishing poetry and plays as well as the fiction and essays for which he was known. He garnered acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality, and humanity. His essay collections Notes of a Native SonNobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time were influential in informing a largely white audience. Other novels included Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, and Just Above My Head.

James Baldwin offered a vital literary voice during the era of civil rights activism in the 1950s and ’60s. Baldwin’s novels and plays fictionalized fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures thwarting the equitable integration of not only blacks, but also of gay and bisexual men, while depicting some internalized obstacles to such individuals’ quests for acceptance. Such dynamics are prominent in Baldwin’s second novel, Giovanni’s Room, written in 1956 well before gay rights were widely espoused in America. His inclusion of gay themes resulted in a lot of savage criticism from the Black community.

On November 30, 1987, Baldwin died from stomach cancer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France. He was buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, near New York City.



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Also: James Baldwin on What Artists Know

Biographical information via Wikipedia, Biography, and Goodreads

Featured image by John H. White, 1945-, Photographer (NARA record: 4002141) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


To Live in Righteous Anger

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know, I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for feeling tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting to crawl back into bed.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s think of Mondays as a chance at a fresh start, every single week. Mondays are do-overs, each one is our own personal reset button. Let’s take this opportunity to do it differently. Let’s make the changes we want to see in ourselves and the world, okay?

For me, this Monday is one of reflection and courage. I am thinking of the great Martin Luther King Jr., and I am facing some big fears and anxieties this morning in a doctor’s office. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to see a doctor. They frighten me, but I’m not sure why. It’s as if somehow seeing the doctor will be what leads to my death. It’s stupid and irrational, but that doesn’t mean my mind can let it go. Wish me luck in my morning of panic attacks.

“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was thinking about forgiveness the other day, a virtue I have struggled with my whole life. I thought about how I had hardened myself against forgiveness, lumping it in with all the other parts of religion that aim to keep us weak, passive, and easily manipulated. Forgiveness erases the past and makes us easily controlled in the future. It makes your pain pointless and gives the abuser, oppressor, and manipulator the impression that they have no dues to pay or apologies to make. I do not forgive, not deep down, even if I act like I do.

Many people have told me, both face to face, through sermons, and through motivational quotes, that forgiveness was good for the soul. That forgiveness was for you and not them. That forgiveness was the ultimate test and proof of strength. Bullshit, I thought.

But the other day, out of nowhere I got it. Forgiveness isn’t saying it’s okay. It isn’t saying that the people who hurt you aren’t to blame. It doesn’t mean I have to like them, love them, or give them another chance. It doesn’t mean that my anger isn’t real or warranted. It means that I don’t have to live in that anger anymore.

I don’t have to spit cruel words, or go out of my way to make my anger felt by them, or myself. It doesn’t have to be a part of every day of my life. I don’t have to throw it out, I just have to put it in storage, and I only have to take it out when I want to, when it’s useful to me.

This felt like a real breakthrough. Like, there were parts of my psyche I never realized were so tightened up with anger and finally, a mental muscle that had been working, working, working, got to take a break.

Hatred is the same I suppose. I hope.

I don’t hate often but when I do it is a deep and mean kind of hate, all consuming. I have hated bosses, I’ve hated family members, I’ve hated celebrities, and, more recently, I’ve come to hate a whole slew of politicians, pundits, and swaths of citizens, voters, and non-voters. I feel it like a dark whole in my chest, painful, inflamed, and crippling.

My hatred lives on a nation level, and I blame one man for it all, Donald Trump.

Hatred is a strong word, a strong emotion, to center on one man, I know, but he has become the leader, the figurehead, of a movement of destruction. He has given power to those who people like Martin Luther King Jr. fought so hard to against. He has taken us back to a time and a moral standard that is devoid of compassion and empathy. He has made the worst parts of humanity into virtues and left those who needed protection out in the cold, to be ridiculed and hated again.

This week that man will become President of the United States of America and I keep asking myself: What would Martin Luther King have to say about the state of our country today?

I think he would be livid. He would be disappointed. He would never stand for this, and he would surely be reminding us of how far we have fallen from his dream.

He would be angry but would he feel hatred the way I do? I believe he wouldn’t and if I could meet him and speak with him he would tell me not to live in my hatred. HE would tell me to hold on to my anger but to make it a righteous and useful anger, not an anger rooted in meanness and revenge. I do not wish evil on those unwilling to do what is right, simply because they are afraid of inclusion and equality, but I am angry, and I will fight them.

I am learning to forgive by not living in anger. I am learning not to hate by fighting back with everything the opposition lacks. I want to fight with love. I want to fight for everyone.

All the great leaders I’ve studied did two things: They told the truth. They didn’t bother with insults or exaggerations. They didn’t bother with comeback or promises of punishment or revenge. They didn’t build themselves up at another expense. They only told the truth, and if the truth made you look bad, it was your own fault.

The second thing the did was push, pull, and drag everyone to the problem and the solution. Our true leaders didn’t just preach to the choir, the spoke to the very people who need to hear the truth. They spoke to the people who were part of the problem, not by action but by inaction too. They made it clear who was responsible and how the responsible could make a change. They laid the crime on the criminals and taught the victims how to stand up, be strong, and fight back.

So, I guess that is the kind of person I want to be. Not a pacifist, as Dr. King is often betrayed, but a righteous warrior. Someone who fights back in a way that my conscience can live with. Anger is ok, but living in it, never feeling compassion for the enemy is not the right way. Use your anger to never let them forget or make excuses. Use your anger to make them do better, not to make them fear you. Use your anger to uplift your community, not use them to make you feel important and god-like.

I will work on not hating the people who want to hold us all back, watch others suffer, and even kill for the pleasure of a win.

I will try not to hate people who are taking away healthcare from the people who need it most. I will try not to hate people who wish to take rights and dignity from people who have already lived in shame and fear. I will try not to hate people who want to keep people from America who need our protection the most. I will try not to hate people who want more prisons, more guns, more bombs.

I will try every day not to hate them, but I will never stop talking about their crime.

I will never let them forget.

I think Dr. King would approve.


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Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Frida Kahlo

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. For my contribution this week, I have chosen a quote from the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.


Frida-KahloFrida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, in her parents’ home, La Casa Azul, in Coyoacán.Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left; she disguised this later in life by wearing long skirts or trousers. It has been conjectured that she was born with spina bifida, a congenital condition that could have affected both spinal and leg development.

On September 17, 1925, when Kahlo was 18 years old, she was riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. She suffered a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. In addition, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen, compromising her reproductive capacity. The accident left her in a great deal of pain, and she spent three months recovering in a full body cast. She had relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life.

After her accident, Kahlo abandoned the study of medicine and began to paint, to occupy herself during her three-month immobilization. Her mother had a special easel made so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes. Self-portraits were a dominant motif then.

Kahlo created at least 140 paintings, along with dozens of drawings and studies. Of her paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds.

In 1929 Kahlo married the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He encouraged her artistic endeavors and had a great influence on Kahlo’s painting style. The bisexual Kahlo had affairs with both men and women. For her part, Kahlo was furious when she learned that Rivera had an affair with her younger sister, Cristina. The couple divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940. Their second marriage was as troubled as the first.

Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47. In his autobiography, Diego Rivera wrote that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic day of his life, and that, too late, he had realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her.

Although she has long been recognized as an important painter, public awareness of her work has become more widespread since the 1970s. Her “Blue” house in Coyoacán, Mexico City is a museum, donated by Diego Rivera upon his death in 1957.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”

Frida Kahlo

I don’t remember when I first encountered a Frida Kahlo painting, but it feels like I have always loved her work. I love that she paints herself, and I love that I can feel her pain when I look at her work. At some point I did research who she was. I read her incredible story and I watched the movie made about her life too. I became obsessed and I now count her amoung my greatest heros and influences.

I once described her to someone who had never heard of her, telling him what I loved about her, and his response was: “so you love her for her pain?”. At first, I became defensive. I didn’t love her for her pain, did I? When I thought about it I had to admit I did, but I also realized that it was only half of the story.

I loved her pain, which became an intrinsic part of who she was, but I also loved her for her ability to translate it into something that could be grasped by those around her and for future generations. She learned to paint her pain so that the world could see that she was hurt, and she learned to paint her overcoming of it too. She painted who she was and when we look at her work we can see inside her and inside of all of us.

Frida Kahlo is all of us. She used her pain as a chance to learn a skill, to explore who she was, and to paint hers, and every human’s, condition.

I’m the kind of person who you might call pessimistic at first. I see suffering every where I go. I believe pain and suffering are a few of the only conditions every human shares with every other, regardless of our position in this world. The ability to see past that pain is something every human is capable of as well.

Pain and suffering give each of us a chance to contemplate our choices, our responsibilities, and our reasons for doing everything we do. Pain and suffering give us a chance to take those same questions and apply them to society and all people. Pain and suffering are what help us grow and eventually turn into hope, joy, and accomplishment.

I want to be like Kahlo. I want to take my pain and transform it into something that tells a truth about all of humanity.

I want to tell so beautiful a truth that it transcends race, class, culture, and time.

Happy Birthday Friday Kahlo.

You were such a lovely woman and a great influence on the kind of woman I would like to be one day. I wish I could have known you.

Toni Frissell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Frida Kahlo, Las Dos Fridas 1939


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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Featured image via by martinak15 [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Jean-Paul Sartre on Freedom and Responsibility

“I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating.”

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness

I have been interested in Sartre for a long time, but I haven’t yet gotten around to reading his most famous book Being and Nothingness. From what I have read about him, though, his philosophy sounds like something I could definitely get behind.

Sartre was an existentialist. He followed and endorsed a philosophy that faces the weirder and more painful aspects of the human condition, and attempted to shed light on the truth of the human condition. At the center is the fact that humans are alone, and we are wholly responsible for what we do in life. There are no single sets of rules and no single meaning for any of us and to believe in such things is to believe in an illusion.

The philosophy sounds depressing, but when you study it, think about it, and come out of the other side gives us a better sense of freedom and optimism.

I may not have read him, but I have collected a few of his quotes. Taken out of context I can’t be sure what he means, but some speak to me nonetheless. My favorites have to do with humans accepting the fact that God does not exist. I don’t want to debate this because the point isn’t whether God is or isn’t real the point is that for people who know he doesn’t exist the realization, despite appearances, can be jarring and upsetting.

“That God does not exist, I cannot deny, That my whole being cries out for God I cannot forget.”

 Jean-Paul Sartre

As most religious people assume, letting go of God does leave quite a void. The trick, and for some nonbelievers, the entire crux of it all, is to face the hard truth. You have to accept that the emptiness inside you is a reality. To deny it is to lie to yourself and to waste your life in lies. Existentialism begins with seeing that humans are untethered and free. As Sartre would see, our existence comes before our essence. We are here before we have a purpose. If there is a God, things are the other way around.

Now, facing these facts are hard. So, of course, most humans spend their whole lives running from it all. We would rather believe we have to do this or that, that we have rules and have to follow social constructs. We would rather give up our freedom of choice and say that our purpose and plan was laid out before we got here, and further give it up by believing that we must do this or that once we are here than deal with the uncomfortable fact that at any time we can do anything we like.

“We are left alone, without excuse.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Whenever you think you can’t leave your job, you can’t leave your spouse, you can’t pick up and move to Austrailia, you are lying. You can, you always can. To say you cannot is to lie to yourself, and remember, lying to yourself only limits the quality of the life you will have.

It isn’t easy for us to do those things, but it isn’t impossible. The biggest hurdle is capitalism, and from what I understand,  Satre had some things to say about that too. Capitalism makes us feel trapped.

The point is you should never let yourself get stuck. Never forget you have more freedom than ever feels possible. And as we all know, with great power, comes great responsibility. You are free and with that freedom, the option of blaming anyone else for who you are and what you do is no longer available.

The loneliness, the freedom, and the responsibility are all scary things but to turn from them is to turn away from seeing the world for what it is and enjoying all that life has to offer. You have only one life, don’t waste it on illusions. I don’t mean God entirely, I mean the illusion that whatever you have is all there is and that all there is is what other people say you can have.

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

Just like any philosophy the entire truth of being is not contained in any one but a little bit of wisdom can be found in each. There are things I don’t agree with Sartre on exactly.

For example, I agree that for humans, existence proceeds essence. There is no implicit purpose in our design. I also agree that there is no designer. I don’t agree that there is no design. DNA  gives us our design and to some extent determines some of our nature. The way Sartre has explained things, I think he means to say that each human being starts as a blank slate, and that isn’t true.

I believe there may be some limits on what we can and can’t do; I just believe there aren’t as many as we think there are. We have much, much more freedom than we can ever imagine. The sad part is we act in ways that limit our own freedom, both as individuals and a society.

I hope to read Sartre’s work soon, and I hope to pull as much wisdom as I can from him. I will treat him as I would any other great mind. I will take what makes sense, what can work for me, and what I think will improve this world and use it. The rest I will toss. From what I have heard of the man I expect to keep more than I throw away.

“Everything has been figured out, except how to live.”

 Jean-Paul Sartre


Written in honor of Jean-Paul Sartre’s 111th birthday.

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Short and Sweet Reviews // The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

“Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

// W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

The Souls of Black Folk is a classic work of both American literature and of black protest. Written by the historian and civil rights activist, W.E.B. Du Bois, and first published in 1903, the book is a collection of essays on race and has become one of the most important books concerning the history of race relations in this country.

I first started this book over a year ago but quickly put it back down when I found it to be very different from what I expected. I thought I was going to read something very dry, academic, and full of stats, figures, and facts. Instead, I found something that was full of feeling, more feeling than I was prepared for I suppose. Now a whole year later I’ve picked it back up and this time, I am amazed. This man writes beautifully!

When I was done my mind was blown and I am now a little different than I was before reading it.

I guess it just never occurred to me before to think about the details of what happened after slavery was abolished. How did the children of slaves educate themselves? How did they make a living? And how did they navigate around the hatred they encountered everywhere they went from white people? This book answered a lot of those questions and sparked a desire for me to learn more.

“One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

// W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk


The first essays are the “meat” of the book and talk mostly of “The Veil”, Du Bois’ visual manifestation of the color line and metaphor for all the separates black people from the world and opportunities white people enjoyed. These essays are very informative but it was some of the ones toward the end that I liked the best. His essay on his first born child almost brought me to tears, the story of the two sons left me angry, and the one about slave songs was very interesting and has me searching the internet for old recordings.

I cannot say much more without giving it all away but trust me, this book deserves all the praise it has received. It is a must-read but it isn’t necessarily an easy one. If you come to it with your heart open and the time to really think about what is being said, then by the end you will find yourself more aware and more full of feeling and understanding for the people who suffered in this country during, and just after, the abolishment of slavery.

Read it because it is good, but more than that, read it because it is important for us to know our own history and which direction we must head in the future.

“Progress in human affairs is more often a pull than a push, surging forward of the exceptional man, and the lifting of good duller brethren slowly and painfully to his vantage-ground.”

// W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk


Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Anne Frank

Hello friends and welcome to Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Each Wednesday bloggers share their very favorite quotes to inspire and motivate each other to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution is from the famous diarist, Anne Frank.

Annelies Marie “Anne”, born on June 12th, 1929, was a German-born Jewish girl from the city of Frankfurt. She spent most of her life in or near Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. In 1942, when Anne was just 13 years old, her and her family, and four friends, hid from the Nazis in the attic of her father’s office during the German occupation in World War II. It was in those two years of hiding in that attic that she wrote in her “cardboard-covered notebook, bearing the proud name ‘diary'”, which she had received as a birthday gift.

On the morning of August 4th 1944, after receiving an anonymous tip, the German police stormed the office and found the Franks and their friends. They were arrested, held, interrogated, and then shipped to concentration camps, specifically, Auschwitz. The source of the information that led the authorities to raid has never been identified. In the end the only member of her family to survive would be her father, Otto. After the war ended Otto returned to Amsterdam and was given Anne’s diary by one of the women who had helped hide them, Miep Gies.

Otto edited and submitted his daughter’s diary for publication. It wasn’t easy at first but eventually his efforts resulted in  publication and Anne becoming one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. She became the voice for many who suffered during that time. She became the voice who would teach many young children of the atrocities that occurred in a way that they could understand and identify with.

She is one of the greatest authors of the 20th century.

Because paper has more patience than people.

— Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t heard of Anne Frank. I think that is a good thing. I’ve always imagined that because of her the world is a better place. I like to think that she has some part in the fact that nothing quite like the Holocaust has happened again. I like to think that we are all more aware of just how bad it all was because we read her diary and she made us really feel what it was like for her and her family. She made us love her too and through that love we cared more about her fate. Through that love we felt real pain at learning her fate and that of all the victims of the Holocaust.

I hope that kids in middle and high school are still reading her book.

I chose the quote because while I do have dreams of writing for a living and spending my days holed up in my home office/library writing books people will love to read, I do wonder if that isn’t why I write at all. Some days I get the feeling that writing is just a very good friend to me and that is why I can’t stop.

Writing is there for me when I am sad and when i am happy. Writing can hold events from the past and all my hopes for the future. Writing is never irritated with me no matter how much I go on. Writing doesn’t lose interest because I go off on a tangent or because I have trouble explaining something they way I mean to. Writing never interrupts or tells me “not now”. When I have nothing and no one I will have my writing. Whether I realize my dream or end up homeless and hopeless, I will have writing.

I kept diaries and journals as a teenager too. Writing is, after all, the perfect confidant and will keep all of your secrets. I wrote about feeling confused and sad and alone. I wrote about the things I couldn’t tell anyone about and I felt so much better for it. I wonder sometimes if writing is what got me through all those hard years. In my early twenties me and writing grew apart briefly. I wasn’t so confused or sad or alone and I didn’t know what to write about anymore.

This blog is a sort of return to that kind of writing. Like the page this place on the internet is patient with me. I write here when, and what, I need to and I feel better when I do. My friendship with writing grows everyday and by now we feel like old friends greeting each other a little more easily every time we meet.

I do still keep a paper journal, when I remember to that is. I use it to record more private thoughts, or things that no one else would possibly care about. Every time I do I still get that same feeling, the rush of thoughts coming faster than I can write, the relief at having got something off my chest, and the fear, and the hope, that someday someone will read my private thoughts. I love it.

I’ll never understood why so many people don’t keep journals.

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Happy Birthday Hemingway

Happy Wednesday everyone! We made it half-way through the week and that is surely something to be proud of. If you are feeling a little run down already and in need of a little push to get you the rest of the way to the weekend check out Colleen’s weekly event Writer’s Quote Wednesday. Every week bloggers share their favorite quotes to inspire and motivate each other to keep going. My contribution this week is from the classic American author, Earnest Hemingway, whose birthday was just yesterday.

I think just about everyone, every American at least, has heard of Earnest Hemingway.

Born on July 21, 1899 Hemingway in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago to Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a physician, and, Grace Hall-Hemingway, a musician. Both were well respected members of their community. As a child in school he played many sports and excelled in English class. In his junior year he took a journalism class which was set up as a newspaper office.

They produced a school newspaper called The Trapeze to which Hemingway submitted a piece about a local performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in January 1916. This would be his first published piece.

Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises was “a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame.” The Sun Also Rises is written in the spare, tight prose that made Hemingway famous, and, according to James Nagel, “changed the nature of American writing.” He was not a fan of complex syntax and about 70 percent of his sentences are simple,almost childlike and without subordination.

Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s. He published seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction works. Three novels, four collections of short stories and three non-fiction works were published posthumously. Many of these are considered classics of American literature.

In 1954, when Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for “his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.”

After that Hemingway’s health declined. He suffered from depression and was treated for numerous conditions such as high blood pressure and liver disease. He wrote A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his years in Paris, and retired permanently to Idaho. There he continued to battle with deteriorating mental and physical health.

Early on the morning of July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in his Ketchum home.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Ernest Hemingway

I’ve had this quote sitting in my drafts for a long time now. It’s so simple yet so profound I wasn’t sure exactly how to articulate the way it made me feel. As a writer I practice what I like to refer to as “radical  authenticity”. I say only the things I believe to be true. Writing non-fiction means I take this very seriously and practice it literally, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to tell the truth.

When we write fiction we use lies and made-up stories to tell a truth about life and the human condition. The easiest way to see this is through poetry. Poetry gives us a way to tell a truth more plainly but in a beautiful way. I am working on learning different ways to write the truth. I work on poetry and soon I hope to work on telling good stories too. But no matter what I do I try my best to start with the truest thing I know.

If you start there and work your way out, I promise whatever you write will be something good.

Original image via Christian Gonzalez

Biographical information from Wikipedia, Goodreads, and Biography.com.

Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Arthur Rimbaud

Congrats! You’ve made it halfway through the week, whew! I had a rough start but since then things have improved and I am making my way to Friday in a much better mood. If you are in need of a little push to get you the rest of the way check out Colleen’s weekly event Writer’s Quote Wednesday. Every week bloggers pull their favorite quotes from other writers to keep us all inspired and motivated.

My contribution this week is from the poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud.

Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen, Étienne Carjat

Born October 20, 1854 in Charleville, Ardennes, Rimbaud was a French poet who started writing verse at the age of 16 and then abruptly stopped before he was 21. It is said that his “genius, its flowering, explosion and sudden extinction, still astonishes”. He made an incredible impact on the Surrealist movement and is a major figure in symbolism.

Rimbaud was very much a libertine and an adventurer. He ran away from home a few times and wandered the countryside until he ended up in Paris. He was 16 by then and met the poet Paul Verlaine. Verlaine was impressed by what is probably Rimbaud’s most famous work, Le Bateau ivre (The Drunken Boat) in which he sends a toy boat on a journey, an allegory for a spiritual quest.

Verlaine and Rimbaud eventually became lovers but their relationship was erratic and often hostile. They lived together for eighteen months and in three different countries. Their relationship ended abruptly, after a particularly bad fight where a drunk and hysterical Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the hand.

Rimbaud continued to write but by the age of 19 or 20 he began to think seriously about his finances. He quit poetry and took jobs in African towns as a colonial tradesman. He never wrote prose again.

These jobs caused considerable stress in his adult life. He struggled to secure financial success, the traveling left him sick, and he hated the culture and climates of the towns he worked in. He was quite racist but fear of the French military draft kept him from returning home. In 1891 he began to experience pain in his knee and after being misdiagnosed his doctor recommended amputation. Unfortunately, what was really wrong with his knee was bone cancer, which actually continued to spread, even after the amputation.

He died on November 10, 1891 at the age of thirty-seven. Four years later, his ex-lover Verlaine published his complete works, securing Rimbaud’s fame.

“I turned silences and nights into words. What was unutterable, I wrote down. I made the whirling world stand still.”

— Arthur Rimbaud

This quote, and Rimbaud’s story moved me greatly. The fact that he only wrote as a teenager and then abruptly stopped, for financial reasons, makes me think of the worries all creative types have of never being able to live on their talent and passion. The starving artist myth can feel very real when you read stories like this.

The quote is a beautiful one. Sometimes writing feels like such a logical, tedious, and boring thing but we writers are always working to give words to the things that can’t easily be explained. Those profound and abstract things like what exactly emotions are, what it means to alive and to be a human, the way the night sky looks, or what silence sounds like are things for which no words quite describe. Yet we have this drive to try and try again to form them into paragraphs and chapters.

When we do this we freeze time and force the world to stand still so we can really see what these things are. We examine them from every angle and share our findings, hoping that in doing so we give others the chance to feel as deeply about these moments as we do.

Original image via https://flic.kr/p/qGQJwT