Twice during this week, from two different sources, I was told to search out some of the WPA essays. These are essays written by out of work writers for the government during the depression. So I googled WPA Essays. Wow! The amount of hits were mind-boggling. The subjects covered everything from knitting to history. But I was drawn to the slave narratives. These are scans of the original handwritten interviews of former slaves still alive in the early 30s.
These pieces of art–they are art–are archived in a digital form on the Library of Congress’ website. I couldn’t imagine these treasures had been around and I never knew about them. The writer in me wanted to read this work, these stories. I began with an one hundred year old former slave still alive in the 30s in south Georgia. At any time in my life I would have been entranced with this writing, but now, it holds a more poignant interest. My family became richer and more diverse with my youngest daughter’s wedding a couple of summers ago. And with the birth of my new granddaughter, a new history and culture was added. I guess what I’m trying to say is all those years of pledging that I would continue my outspoken belief in civil rights and my open love of the many different voices we have in this country just became personal, more than wonderful words. And maybe it was this personalizing that led me to read these essays with new eyes.
A germ of an idea sprang up two-thirds of the way through the second essay. I could begin a body of work concerning slavery. Whoa! Who do I think I am with my white southern relatives, who always believed the south was a country of its own and who weren’t always people I wanted to claim as kin? I couldn’t even pretend to crawl into a skin of a different color. Or could I? Is it not expected of me as a fiction writer to be open and willing to be any character that presents itself? The thought is scary. Why was it I wanted to begin this project? I spent the afternoon pondering this question. And then it came to me. I always write about what is nearest and dearest to my heart. A body of work always begins with a need. The need in most cases involves me finding the answer to a questions. In this case there is more than one? But the biggest is: how important is our family history in our lives? How does our relatives’ choices form who we are, even if we never knew them?
So, I have decided to take on the challenge of writing from a completely different point of view. Who do I think I am? I am a wife, mother, and grandmother, who wants to leave a legacy for those far ahead of me, a path to explore. Yes I will take the road less traveled on this one and prepare to open to my art and allow it to flow in the direction it chooses.