I’d Love to Meet Maria Cotera

I just listened to the podcast of Sweetland’s Writer to Writer session with Maria Cotera, and I want to sign up for one of her classes as soon as possible. Ms. Cotera grabbed my attention from the beginning; she made academia relatable. Her personal story and familial ties and her interest in storytelling in general was very intriguing to me.

As I’ve learned in this class, the expanse of the topic “Why I Write” is possibly much different than it sounds. Answers to this question, as I now know, are not simple and are far from universal. While this was not the exact topic of Ms. Cotera’s discussion, I found her own answer to this question came out through her stories.

Like all of us, Ms. Cotera was significantly influenced by how she grew up. Her mother, a Chicana feminist, told her daughter about the importance of finding a “room of your own” to write in, although it may be difficult for women of color in particular. Her mother’s “room,” as she remembers, was often McDonald’s. This resonated with me because it made me realize that it was the context of her situation coupled with what was within her that allowed her to succeed. For Ms. Cotera, it seems like her mother’s struggle and triumph as a writer are what inspired her to become one herself.

When Ms. Cotera shifted to talking about her own experience as a writer, she spoke about her desire to tell stories and specifically “giving a voice to the voiceless,” in this case women of color. She said, “…writing is a communicative art…for telling stories that haven’t been told.” As someone who is intrigued by the power of stories, both reading them and telling them myself, I was interested in this point. I wonder, however, how one really can give a voice to the voiceless. I would love to hear more from Ms. Cotera on the impact of this practice. How powerful can telling someone else’s story be? How do we know if or when we got it right, that we really did give that person a voice? Is it right to try to give a voice to the voiceless, or is there more potential impact in trying to help those find their own voice?

Ms. Cotera’s advice for student writers was also really helpful. At first, I was weary of blogging. I didn’t see how it would improve my writing and I was uncomfortable with the immediacy and vulnerability of online writing. Ms. Cotera reminded students at Writer to Writer that changes in technology have impacted the creative process significantly and allowed us to publish in a much more volatile and accepting medium. Blogging has forced me to write…often and without drafting. It has been good practice and the initial “500 words…how am I supposed to write 500 words on command and just click post?” freak out has subsided. As much as I never thought I’d say it, Ms. Cotera is right; it has been good practice. Her advice, as someone who believes in the impact of stories and has seen a full spectrum of student work, is encouraging and powerful. Hey, as crazy as it seems, maybe I will try blogging about Beyonce.


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