Let's keep the WRRC women writers series going

March 14, 1999
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us

The Women's Resources and Research Center is doing an excellent job of bringing women writers to the UC Davis campus to entertain and inspire. So after two years, I hope the community won't let this series die due to lack of support.

Last year, Diane Adams of the WRRC brought Dorothy Allison ("Bastard out of Carolina"), April Sinclair ("Coffee Will Make You Black"), Gail Tsukiyama ("The Samurai's Garden") and Chitra Divakaruni ("Mistress of Spices") to Davis.

This year, the series has included Adeline Yen Mah, Suzanne Strempek Shea and A.J. Verdelle. The '99 series will conclude on April 7 with UCD Professor Katherine Vaz reading from her work, describing the writing life, and answering questions.

I hope the series will continue in the year 2000 but the program appears to be in jeopardy. It's a costly venture. Through the series, the Women's Center tries to cover its own expenses, pay the authors a modest honorarium, and raise money for worthy causes. Recipients have included a women's shelter in Davis and a countywide teen pregnancy prevention program.

I'm surprised at the number of men and women who should be attending these programs but are not. I won't name names, you know who you are. Redeem yourself! Come to 1100 Social Sciences on campus at 7:30 p.m. on April 7 (you can buy tickets at the door, $10 for adults and $8 for students) and show some support not just for women, not just for writers, but for the communities that these events uphold directly and indirectly.

And, be warned, this may be your last chance to see Vaz, the author of "Marianna" and "Fado and Other Stories" for a while. She will be gone for much of the summer and will be on sabbatical leave in Portugal this fall.

You've already missed the first three speakers in the series, which is a real shame. Adeline Yen Mah was the only non-fiction writer in the series. In January she described how she came to write "Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Abandoned Chinese Daughter."

Suzanne Strempek Shea is the author of two fictionalized memoirs, "Selling the Lite of Heaven" and "Hoopi Shoopi Donna," about her Polish-American childhood. She was here last month.

On March 10, A.J. Verdelle read from her first novel "The Good Negress" in which she describes the world of a young black girl, Denise Palms, and her relationship with her extended family.

Mah, Shea, and Verdelle all have something very interesting in common: their writing began as a secondary occupation. Mah was a medical doctor, Shea was a journalist and Verdelle was a statistician. All three women had at some level been told or made to feel that their stories were not important and if they persisted in writing they certainly would never be commercially successful. Wrong on both counts.

Their books have attracted thousands of fans beyond their immediate marketing profile of Asian-American, Polish-American and African-American readers. That's why this series should be supported. These women, who have harsh, tender and wonderful stories to tell, represent all the voices that have been stifled through the years. The result is stories with a universal appeal.

Verdelle teaches creative writing at Princeton University and runs her own consulting firm. Her book has won numerous awards.

"I'm a perfect example of why you shouldn't give up on your kids," she told the audience last night. "I was not considered a prize in school. I got straight A's but I flunked deportment...and changed schools a lot."

Mah, too, was told by her publisher that her book would sell only a small number of copies. Instead, "Falling Leaves" has been reprinted into the hundreds of thousands.

And Shea didn't know in advance if there would be any interest in an accordion-playing Polish girl from a small town on the East Coast. There turned out to be a lot of interest.

I might make one small suggestion to the WRRC coordinators. The series has been subtitled "Women Who Speak the Truth." I find myself wincing on behalf of the guest writers whenever I read that. The truth? That's a cold presumptuous lecture while the women we've heard from so far have been warm and accessible. But no matter what it's called, let's support the last lecture of this year's series and hope it won't be the last. Fingers crossed.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

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