“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time, the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.” — Virginia Woolf
What if the work does not reference slavery? What if it is not a tome of epistolary yearning between sisters flung far apart by callous white folks or cruel, womanizing black men? What if it does not speak of a revolution? What if we decide not to pay lip service to civil rights martyrs or paint vivid pictures of black pathology that resonate with liberal audiences and make them mourn over urban blight during awards season?
Will there be room for us?
What if we write of the unfamiliar and the work, foreign as it is to what is understood as black experience, is accused of inauthenticity, is labeled fraudulent, misguided, evocative but empty? What if we are told it is rhythmless–and we thought you people had soul, had souls? What if it is quiet and absent of baleful wailing?
Will there be room for us?
So many of our women have not been sitting indoors all these years. And it is these women with whom readers are well-acquainted: the enslaved, the political prisoners, the domestics. We were not being coddled, sheltered, or treated as delicate and pretty, if disposable, possessions. We were broodmares, carnival attractions, wet nurses to children who were not our own. We were whipping posts, cooks to those who owned us, cotton-pullers, one-room schoolteachers, laundresses. We were out earning when our husbands could not. No, we were not known for remaining indoors. So many of us have not worn corsets or pined in bay windows or rode in covered carriages. But some of us have. Ask Jessie Fauset and every woman character she constructed. Consult Phillis Wheatley, pre-freedom, post-fame. We are here in the suburbs, in academies. We are Eat, Pray, Loving, too–and dabbling in the dark arts of Tiger motherhood or putting into practice the French parenting principles outlined in Pamela Druckman’s Bringing Up Bebe.
And we want equal room. We do not wish to be relegated to a sliver of shelf space cleared to accommodate this country’s untidy racial history. We want space for a wide range of life experience. We want our expatriatism romanticized and our motherhood honored. We want to publish work about our boarding school upbringings as easily as we find publishers for our tales of being raised in boarding houses wherein fifteen families shared a washroom.
We want to confess that our creative force has never been hidden, diminished or repressed under the weight of household duty or a projection of feminine delicacy and virtue. We have carried it into the world, lifted it as song into the skies above cane fields, kneaded it, along with bread, into narratives we invented and told to the children we nannied, painted it in the sheds our husbands built in the back of our sharecropped farms, penned it in prison cells. We want to confess this without being called reverse racists, without being complimented for being so articulate, without fielding accusations that our creativity would not be so remarkable were it not for affirmative action. We want to confess this without being called traitors to feminism, without being told we’re minimizing white women’s struggle.
Sometimes we want to write about things other than struggle (and still be eligible for the big prize).
Is there room for us?