Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

According to Dorothy Allison: the transformative power of story

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jun• 08•24

On Tuesday night I spoke to writers in Portland and while out of practice with public speaking, I returned to the topic of  the importance of keeping writer’s notebooks, commonplace books, word lists, and ephemera that inspire. Because sometimes words and visions can appear so fleeting it’s best to capture them whenever, however possible. And then return to them again and again to the self you were when you jotted them down.

Yesterday I was reading this segment of Dorothy Allison’s speech on Lit Hub. She was accepting the lifetime achievement  award for Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award. Allison talked about being raised poor and desperate and full of self-loathing,  some of those hard time’s portrayed in her brilliant novel Bastard out of North Carolina. {Now often found on banned books lists.} But mostly she’s talking about the transformative power of story and how in stories we live forever. “Story is how I understand life.”

Allison:”What if life really was a story? What if we could alter the plot? Assign meaning to the most brutal contempt? Claim passion and glory while walking away from the spit and rage everyone seemed to aim at the poor, the disdain of the well-off and their bland disregard for the not-pretty, the exhausted girl children struggling to be seen as full human beings, the tender soft-eyed boys who wanted what we all wanted–vindication, hope, love and meaning.”

The last line in the segement is: Story is a way out, a way past, a hand in the dark, a whisper of hope, the hope I have for all of us.

Those notebooks I mentioned? I heard Allison speak at a local community college in 2015. Of course I took notes. I’m going to find that note book and return to that spring afternoon.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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