Women’s Work: The Magnificent Six

(from left to right): Susan Kirby-Smith, Tita Ramirez, Naima Coster, Deonna Kelli Sayed, Krista Bremer, and Ashley R. Lumpkin, panelists for our first-ever Greensboro Bound Literary Festival event last night, Women’s Work: Writers on Truth, Beauty, and Creativity.

By Lynne McNeil

It was an evening filled with insights into the creative writing process and, for panelist Ashley Lumpkin, performance and creative writing; experiences that came from a varied and accomplished group of women. They shared their struggles balancing family expectations, the role gender plays in how they carve out time, and even the considerations that come into their decisions on how to present their work. I left with a lot to think about as I consider my own writing and where I will go next. I want to highlight a few of the conversations that are rattling around in my head.

Krista Bremer brought up a quote very roughly paraphrased from author Rebecca Solnit’s work, “Women writers are often either stumbling around in the woods or staying too close to the highway.” Bremer talked about how being lost can be the hardest and the softest place to be, a paradoxical place to arrive.

Ashley Lumpkin agreed that writing is both a soft and a hard place. She believes that after you tell your story, readers and listeners will hold place for you. Naima Coster talked of how when she writes, “I never lose myself. Writing is where I play out my relationship with myself.” Deonna Kelli Sayed added, “Imperfection is a state of being.” Tita Ramirez picked up on the metaphor of the woods and the highway when she said, “having that gas in the car when it is going right keeps you going.” Susan Kirby-Smith contributed that “Intentions matter. The work has its own momentum.”

This is the fuel that keeps us going in our writing, whether we find ourselves lost in our thinking, finding our way to our true selves, or sticking to a well-marked highway hoping our fuel lasts.

Naima Coster spoke of points of access in her writing. She described the ways that publishers find writings about women of color connected to Ivy League Colleges more palatable than those of the everywoman of color’s life.

Who are we writing for, who is our audience? To me this is a question marginalized writers face in a way I imagine is more complex than writers in the dominant culture may consider, or they may just assume a position of privilege and dismiss it before it surfaces.

It comes back to Lumpkin’s thought that there will be a space made for her story. Bremer feels strongly that“the ability to write is a call to service, of speaking truth to tyranny.” Ramirez reflected, “I present honestly what I think we are and let the texts speak for themselves.”

Another question the panel discussed was how women writers, especially those with families, find the time to write. It pretty much came down to what Bremer said, “Grab what time you can to write in, whatever space works for you. Forgive yourself if you do not have consistency. There isn’t any one way to do it.” This echoes Sayed’s need to accept “imperfection” as part of writing.

Kirby-Smith leaves home to do creative writing, as I often do if I am pursuing academic writing, not because I have young children at home, rather because I am so easily distracted. Lumpkin finds after teaching, she simply reads more and relies on jotting down words as best she can.

I haven’t talked about how most of the writers read a sample of their work and how Lumpkin performed an amazing poem she wrote called “Bloody Sunday.” I left off the way the panelist seemed to genuinely like and support each other. I omitted the Q&A session where one man asked the panelists, “when you sit down to write, do you sit down as a woman or do you sit down as not a man?”

A shout-out to Deonna Kelli Sayed for organizing, promoting, and facilitating this event, and to Scuppernong Books for hosting the inaugural event of the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival. What an auspicious start!