“I had writing. In there, I wrote myself back together. I wrote myself towards a stronger version of myself.” – Roxane Gay1
Lives have been saved and destroyed by power. Everyone wants to feel they have the power to control their own destiny, the power to live their own lives, and the power to say something and to be heard. Throughout history and literature, gender has been one way used to raise people up and keep others down.
While power is not an issue exclusive to women, it does impact women in greater numbers than men. As a result, the issue tends to be of particular interest to women who writer. In studying female writers and what they have to say, it is my goal for my students to find their own voice especially during the turbulent times we live in. I want my students to be able to find their own strength.
In language arts class, we study reading and writing and how authors craft their stories while looking at what issues they deem important. Since the story of Eden, literature has attempted to define and influence the roles of men and women in society. The person who tells that story is as important as the story itself. How would the story of Adam and Eve be different if it was specifically told the point of view of Eve? Or Adam for that matter? Or how might it have been impacted if it was translated by a man? Or translated by a woman? These are questions that are important in understanding a story and understanding an author’s message.
The issues that appear in literature tend to be a reflection of place and culture. In terms of history, it is often the victors who decide what happened. With men traditional leveraging their strength into power, it is often the male point of view that is shared while female experience is often suppressed. This is no different in literature. There is an ongoing debate about the abundant presence of dead, white men in the public-school literary canon. Writers like William Shakespeare and Ernest Hemingway are names that are common to many children and young adults across the country while writers like Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, Nadine Gordimer, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are less familiar. It is my hope that in the course of my unit to rectify this situation.
During this course of study, students will read the short fiction of writers with a broader perspective. It is my hope that through experience of the work of a group of diverse female writers that students will be able to examine an author’s text and life experience in order to determine their point of view. They will be asked to learn about different writers, analyze what aspects of their life are important, determine why it is that they chose this topic to write about, and cultivate their own views about what the writers view as important. Also, during this process, they will have the opportunity to write about what they determine is important.
Roxane Gay states that writing itself is a political act.2 I would agree. I think writing is a way for the writer to exert their power. My students often feel they have no voice, but there are a multitude of ways for underrepresented voices to be heard including, but not limited to, expressing political power. As young people, it is important for my students now to start thinking about what is important to them. In their research, Xu, Mar and Peterson found experience has an important impact on political views. It is important for my students to have experiences.3 While my students don’t have the right to vote, they have the ability to cultivate their voice to determine what issues are important to them and what their stance is on those issues. In the long term, this will be very important when they do reach the age to become voters.
It is my hope that through the study of writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, and Nadine Gordimer, among others, that my students will start to see how women have regained their power through writing. I want my students to find their voice like Roxane Gay, who overcame adversity and found her inner strength, her inner voice, through the written word .4 This is what I want for my students. I want them to be able to cultivate their own voice to share with the world so they can be heard. One of the ways we will do this, just as Gay talks about in finding her own voice, is through reading the writing of powerful women and my students’ own writing.