Having just listened to Maria Cotera speak in the Word 2 Word podcast, I am realizing that a) I’ve been missing out on a truly inspirational and informative genre and b) even professional writers struggle to define what writing is – both to them personally and as a broader explanation as well. I want to touch on several things she said.
I’ve never specifically sought out writing done by women (or men) of color. Not because I was actively avoiding the genre, but because I never even thought to consider it. I’ve mostly just read what’s in front of me – not paying special concern to one particular type of genre. I peruse bestseller lists, yes, but oftentimes there is little to no variation between those books. Listening to Maria Cotera speak made me realize that even though I may not be a woman writer of color, the opportunity to learn from this disparate perspective is one I cannot pass up.
Additionally, I found it particularly inspiring to me personally when she talked about even writers having trouble defining the term writer. She herself had to change the way she thought about writing. She stated that, for a long time, she thought of writing as sitting down every morning writing for five hours “upstairs in your tweed jacket with elbow patches.” She couldn’t let go of her formal and rigid definition of a writer as someone who writes with a focus on being prolific rather than poetic. As she grew as a writer, however, she realized that writing comes in all forms. She stated that she even considers Twitter to be writing, calling it “critically and theoretically informed.” I’ve been talking this entire semester about the struggle I’ve felt in trying to define the word writer and what it means to me – perhaps I need to quit forcing my definition and instead let it come to me as I grow, like Cotera did.
She opened by telling a story of the first time she remembers witnessing writing. Her mother had brought her to a McDonald’s so that she could work on a book while Maria played in the playscape. She talked about her mother writing in longhand a book that she eventually self-published, and brought up a Virginia Wolfe quote about each woman writer needing a room of her own. I can see the truth in this – in both a literal and figurative sense. Literally, yes, each woman needs a space away from her everyday life in order to write peacefully and without distraction. Analyzing this quote figuratively, however, brings to mind the meaning that I think Wolfe wanted to convey – that each woman writer needs a space of her own in the broader field of writing. I interpreted this as each woman needing to carve out a space for herself in the world, a space that allows her to feel safe with what she is writing, to be confident in it, and to avoid the worry that may come from putting such personal testimony out into the public sphere.
All in all, I thought Maria Cotera was a unique, hilarious, and absolutely intriguing voice – and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to listen to her speak, even if it was through the headphones on my computer.