Confession time: My name is Maisha, and I write with an agenda.
Whew. It feels good to get that off my chest.
"Agenda" is a bad word in many writing circles. Writing with an agenda might mean that you're insulting readers by trying to tell them what to think. It might mean that your work isn't as good as it could be, because you're too busy trying to shove a message down people's throats to pay attention to the quality of writing.
And I get that. I really do. I understand that for the work to be good, the writing must speak for itself. And I get that it's better to give readers questions, letting them reach their own conclusions, than to force them to accept my answers.
But I guess the problem comes with the question of how to define an "agenda." I'm no journalist, so my writing's never completely objective. It's always flavored with my own perspectives, experiences, and beliefs. And because my viewpoint is not considered the "norm," I might always come across as having an agenda. Beneath my voice there might always be a sense of unrest, of the need for change, because, to put it simply, the status quo just isn't working for me, as a queer black woman survivor.
At Saturday night's Bitchez Brew Revue, I read some silly poems. I also read the poem I wrote for Trayvon Martin
. Did I have an agenda in reading it? Hell yeah, I did. I've been hearing George Zimmerman's name in the media a lot lately, and I feel that it's important to keep speaking Trayvon's name, too. Did I have an agenda when I was writing it? Damn right, I did. When I wrote it, Zimmerman had yet to be arrested. And I didn't believe that my writing a poem would get him in jail or bring Trayvon justice, no. But for me, the whole situation stirred up a kind of sadness and anger that I need to release into the world. The kind that says something needs to change, because no lives should be lost this way.
So yeah, if that's what it means to have an agenda, then I've got one. I think part of it, for me, is that I write stories that feel personal to me, about events and systems that have traumatized me, so I feel somewhat protective over those, not quite ready to leave it up to interpretation.
But it was my "mentor" Audre Lorde
who said both "I am deliberate and afraid of nothing"
and "I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood."
So maybe as I grow as a writer, I'll still have what may be perceived as an "agenda," being deliberate and unafraid to share my perspective. But maybe I'll develop the skills to be more subtle about it, and really let the writing speak for itself, even at the risk of having it misunderstood.
"Hope will never be silent."
Happy Harvey Milk Day!How are you celebrating? The day's full of events to join. Or, you can recognize Harvey's message of hope and equality in your own way. This afternoon, I'll
be at the launch
of the Trevor Project's
Harvey Milk Call Center, at the historic site of Harvey Milk's camera store. And later, I'll be reading the developed version of my winning story "The Nun's Daughter" at Portuguese Artists Colony.
Join me for a fun evening of more live writing, and musical guest Quinn Deveaux.
The show starts at 5 pm, at Fivepoints Arthouse
in San Francisco. Also not to be missed in the city tonight: Bitchez Brew
, featuring performances by such powerhouses as Jezebel Delilah X
and songbird Brooke Dabalos
. 8 pm, Viracocha. What a day. Happy birthday, Harvey!
Reading at Bitchez Brew
on Sunday was so much fun!
I'm still in disbelief over how fantastic the whole evening was. I began the night as I usually do, nervous as hell about reading
and full of self-doubt about whether I belonged there among the great local talent that was spilling out of the room. I was a featured reader, which meant that I could pretty much read whatever the hell I wanted, and my poems were burning a hole in my pocket, as the more I thought about them, the more I was sure they were all wrong for the event. But, as usual, things changed. Part of it, of course, was seeing the warm, familiar faces of folks I've spent time with at other events, like Quiet Lightning and Literary Death Match.
How long could I stay nervous in a room that offered so many smiles and hugs? But even the people I didn't know contributed to a warm feeling in the room. Hosts Paul Corman-Roberts
and Valerie Chavez have created one of those events
with space for a wide range of artists. Maybe not so much literal space, as I learned later that they had to turn people away at the door, but for those who came early, there was plenty of figurative space for all. And the readers filled the space with a variety of enthralling performances. So by the time the show began, I began to think maybe my poems felt right, after all. And by the time I got up to read, I was sure of it.
Here's what happened, recorded by Evan Karp
. And be sure to check out videos of the other performers on Youtube here
Exciting weekend coming up! Exciting for my writing, anyway. I'll be finishing up grad school applications, and then on Sunday night I'll be a featured reader at Bitchez Brew
. What is this Bitchez Brew, you ask?
It's a San Francisco performance series, featuring music and literature, hosted by Paul Corman-Roberts
and Valerie Chavez. Paul's words, from the website:
"This follows in the tradition of the literary resurgence which has washed over the San Francisco Bay Area since the 2009 LitQuake Festival, whose interactive and multi-media potential has realized a vast audience not seen by Bay Area authors since the mimeo and small press
revolution that enabled the Beat Movement
. We haven’t had our 'Howl @ the Gallery 6' moment just yet, nor do we necessarily need it…we simply want to make good on the promise of then and now, and the Bitchez Brew Reading Series, with its nod to Miles Davis Landmark fusion album of mind bending genre means to help promote just that."Word. Hope to see you there, at Viracocha in San Francisco, 7 pm. Until then, I'll leave you with this -- Bitches Brew