“All I could do was to offer an opinion upon one minor point – a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…”
I read those lines penned by Virginia Woolf back in high school, but have never been able to shake the idea. Not only of a physical room, but of room in this world for female writers. I hardly need to go on about the difficulty facing female authors (much less minority female authors) in getting read, given opportunity, or being taken seriously.
But today, I am writing (for the first time) from my own office. My own room, that I will create in, think in, work in, write in. I am a writer-in-residence for the next three years at Perseverance Theatre, a playwright program funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This includes a salary for these three years to (primarily) write three new plays. While Perseverance Theatre is based in Juneau, half of their season has been in Anchorage the last five years, and they have an office here now. Well – now they have two!
I am geekily excited to have an office, and it feels pretty luxurious. But at our first gathering last month, one of the playwrights talked about how lucky they felt to have this opportunity and resources. The Mellon Foundation rep said (and I’m totally paraphrasing, “Don’t feel lucky. You worked for this. But I hope you will feel responsible.”
I definitely do feel responsible. I feel the responsibility to write what I have in my heart and mind to write, because nobody else in the world has those same ideas, with that same perspective, with my same words. And that’s no small thing.
Part of my tangible responsibility for the residency is to report on what I’m doing during it – and I’ve decided to re-start my blogging habit to do just that. Or I should say, partly talk about the exploration of Native theatre, art and culture I’m delving into, and partly to continue what I began as Writing Raven over 8 years ago – talking about culture, art, and politics through an Alaska Native woman’s perspective.
Virginia Woolf – especially A Room of One’s Own – is pretty much required reading for a female author. So as I set up my own room, of course I was drawn to re-read her inspirational words from so long ago:
“I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young – alas, she never wrote a word… Now my belief is that this poet that never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here to-night, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh. This opportunity, as I think, it is now coming within your power to give her. For my belief is that if we live another century or so… and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and courage to write exactly what we think… then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.”
Woolf encourages those present and future females to take up the pen, to be the voice of so many silenced for so long. And so with some money, and a room of my own – here I go.