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Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them. – Edwidge Danticat, from Create Dangerously

Voice of Our Nations Arts (VONA) week ended today. I met some incredible writers, not to mention the spectacularly talented faculty members. I’m still in a daze from their reading at Berkeley City College.

During the week we were supposed to do a collage about ourselves. It wasn’t until last night that I began to put mine together. While I hurriedly went through the mass of calendars and magazines, cutting out photos, art, words, etc., I felt I was simply slapping on random stuff. I didn’t want to be among of those who left their canvas blank. Peer pressure I suppose. I also felt in awe of some of the other writers’ collages which were filled with expressive artwork and inspiring words. Today, as part of the closing ceremony, writers could present their collages and share their meaning with the audience. I didn’t share because I thought it would be disingenuous; I’d be pretty much BS’ng since I didn’t put much time or thought into it. After I got home, I spread it out and stepped back to get a good look at my collage. I realize now the cutouts were not so random. I chose pictures that spoke to me: two tribal women of color, two hands cupping the Earth, a Keats poem cut from a calendar were among them, along with words like connections, explorer, literary, imagine, history, and feminist, all of which reveals much more about me as a writer than I thought. One particular piece in my collage expresses what being a “Vonite” is to me:

The gift of truth is beyond giving.

The taste beyond sweetness,

the joy beyond the joy.

– Buddha

Even though VONA week is over, the spirit of VONA can continue as long as I keep on writing. And in my effort to keep the VONA spirit alive, I’ve hung the collage on the back of my bedroom door, so I begin and end each day with these words and images in mind.

In the spirit of VONA, I want to spread the word that on Monday July 2nd, my VONA residency teacher, M. Evelina Galang is speaking on the “Comfort Women” of WWII at Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco. She’ll also read from the manuscript she’s working on, about Filipina “Comfort Women”, the Lolas. Evelina is also working on creating living and fixed monuments to honor all “Comfort Women” of WWII. If you are a writer, artist or musician, you can write her to see what you can do to help.

I had planned to blog during the week but I couldn’t fit it in amid my VONA activities, and when I was writing, I was writing fiction. Evelina really kicked my butt (in a good way) with her revision assignment, which will be a subject for another post. One of the lit pieces she assigned to my residency group was the first chapter of Edwidge Danticat’s memoir, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. It is a powerful and moving essay on the role of the immigrant artist as witness and voice for the voiceless, for those still suffering from oppression, poverty and violence in the countries they came from. In countries where reading is considered incendiary, writing, then, is revolutionary.

Writing has the potential to be dangerous because it is subversive by its very nature. Whether through fiction, essay, drama or poetry, good writing seeks to unveil the truth. It compels both the writer and the reader to examine themselves as individuals and as a society or culture. Good writing, therefore, has the potential for creating change, which in many countries, is an endeavor fraught with peril. While I don’t think that it always requires political content, to write dangerously means to write fearlessly. Whether the writing is about an oppressive regime or an emotionally abusive relationship, expressing one’s truth in spite of those who want to suppress it is always a risk. Often the writer risks ridicule, opposition and in some cases, prison or death.

Writing fearlessly isn’t just writing despite the fear of others, it is also writing despite the fear of the writer herself. I’m talking about the fear that tells us we’re not good enough or knowledgeable enough or authentic enough to write that story or essay or poem. The writer who writes it anyway, who is compelled to shout, sing or whisper the truth despite all the opposing voices both outside and inside her head, is, to me, the writer who needs to be read.

When was the last time you took a risk in your writing? What was the risk? Have you ever wanted to write about something but didn’t for fear of opposition? How do you push yourself to create or continue to create dangerously?

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