I was unfortunately unable to make the “Why I Write” event this past week, so Angelle and I sat down to listen to another writer talk about why they write. We decided to listen to a lecture by Natasha Trethewey, an African-American poet who was named the Poet Laureate of the United States by the Library of Congress this past summer.
She gives a lot of her background to her life to begin her talk; she grew up in the south during the time of racial segregation and was very aware of the differences between races. She says that she had an “evolving attraction to words” as she grew up and it was her father in particular who told her that she had to be a writer because of the age in which she grew up. She came to agree with him: she needed to be a writer to answer the questions that needed answering, and that was her calling. She goes on to give multiple other reasons for why she writes. She writes to claim her native land (America, where she grew up, yet a place that was unfairly segregated), so as not to be a foreigner in her homeland, and to recover the stories/voices of people who had become lost in the racial discrimination. Although her poetry is not about race, her words reflect her racialized experience, which she says is only natural.
I appreciated the passion that she has for poetry. She says that poetry enables the human soul. As someone who has never had a large urge to write or read poetry, this was an interesting thing to hear. Natasha also says that she writes because she cannot stand by and say nothing. When I was listening to this part of her talk, I was also thinking about my “Why I Write” essay, and how different my reasons are. I do not feel inclined to write because of pressing issues or “racialized personal experiences.” However, I do believe that I write because of my experiences, so although I obviously do not share a similar background her, I can still understand her reasons for why she writes. She drew a lot of material from Orwell’s “Why I Write”, which was great because I knew what she was talking about when she quoted from him, too!