Lit––––(erally) listening to Heather Ann Thompson at –––erati.

The buzz on Literati’s second floor is quite present. Students, scholars, professors, a child, parents––all gather as writers to hear what Pulitzer Prize winner Heather Ann Thompson has to say, not only about her book Blood in the Water, but also what she has to say as a writer. Lingering coffee aromas, chair legs’ burps as they drag across floors for friends to sit with friends, a little girl’s constant feet shuffling, laughter, silence, and intellect fill the room. You can hear the eager ears in the room, and smell the thirst for inspiration. Writer’s block does not exist here.

What struck me most was Heather Ann Thompson’s encouragement for writers to have confidence in their opinion, and weigh in on their voice. Otherwise, “we would all be literally reiterating the source!” she says.

This encouragement is important for me as a writer for two reasons: the first, as a writer, I am not confident––in the slightest––in what I have to say. Looking back, I have been taught since the tenth grade that solely embedding quotes from the source accurately constructs a research paper, with no room for the author’s reflection or input. It seemed, at the time, that the “A” paper I needed looked like a bunch of research collaged in an essay form. Here, I can now see the craft of how writers walk a fine line between providing factual information for the reader to interpret, while also incorporating their own voice. Without voice, the piece would just be a reformatted version of the original source.

To hear an esteemed researcher and writer say to press in our own voice, even in research papers, is refreshing for me to hear. I can say the mountain of academic papers and research assignments do not seem so impossible! Sadly, the way I was taught in the tenth grade still haunts me, especially since I occasionally struggle with indirectness and lack of voice. But that is something I try and tackle every time I write!

The second reason this encouragement stood out to me: for Heather Ann Thompson to present this encouragement to an audience of writers in the first place whispers to me that perhaps, I am not alone in my insecurities and fears of pressing in on my own voice. This insecurity of mine is what makes me feel inadequate as a writer…but perhaps we are all still learning!

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