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The Courage to Write

Millicent Fawcett, British writer and major activist for women's suffrage

“It is always a thrilling risk to say exactly what you mean, to express exactly what you see,” wrote the marvelous author Patricia Hampl. Each sentence we write boldly asserts, This is my viewpoint and I believe it worthy of utterance.

That takes courage, especially for women constantly defined as “other,” with its implication  Read More 

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HAMILTON, Its Power--and Its Blind Spot

In front of the Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco

I'm a Motown baby. I loved the musical Ain't Too Proud about the Temptations. The familiar beat, the Detroit community where they grew up— it all inspired me. A group of teenagers teamed with a dynamo producer, Berry Gordy, mined the music of African American life and circulated it all over the country. I never thought I could like another kind of show more. Read More 

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The Life of a Writer

Me in my late 30s, when I finally began publishing personal essays.

Being a full-time writer is a strange occupation. I work all day alone in a tiny cottage behind my house, hunched over my computer, lost in an imaginary world. If I weren't producing coherent literature some might consider this peculiar at best–or worthy of psychiatric intervention. Read More 

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The Role of the Writer in Perilous Times

My wife Carole and me at demonstration to Keep Families Together (Immigration), 2018

I’ve been sitting at my computer wondering if it’s selfish to be staring at the screen, searching for the perfect word, when our democracy is under threat? What is my role in times like these; what can writers do?

Searching for writers’ impacts in previous eras I think first of the long,  Read More 

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What Keeps You From Writing?

Did you plan to start on that new writing project yesterday, but then discover that your oven needed cleaning—urgently? You simply couldn’t stand the flaky grime one more day. Or the phone rang just as you sat down to begin and two hours later you realized you allowed yourself to get caught  Read More 

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IS SEEING BELIEVING?

Kamala Harris and me at a fundraiser, March 29, 2019

By Joan Steinau Lester

"I like Kamala Harris but I don't think she's electable," three female friends recently told me.
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The Joy of Writing

“You must have so much discipline!” non-writers exclaim when they discover my profession. “Do you write every day?” They gaze in wonder.

“A writing day is a good day,” I say. “The hardest part is not writing. When there’s too much else I have to do, so my mind won’t settle down.  Read More 

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The Spice in Your Writing

The details you use to ground your writing are like the spices you sprinkle on your food. They give it life and make it uniquely your own. When I cook petrale sole it’s too bland unless I splash ginger powder, garlic, and red pepper into the pan. Sometime I sauté a green onion,  Read More 

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Middle of the book: Keep energy up!

I’ve read books that start so well I think contentedly, Ah, this one I’m going to like; but fifty or seventy-five pages in the prose goes flat, the plot grows confusing or boring, and I close the book in disappointment.

Yet as a writer I understand: it’s easy to bog down  Read More 

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Satisfying Endings

Yes, I smile like this too when I get a satisfying ending in my essay or book.

Recently I was outraged after I finished the last pages of a novel I’d loved. “What?” I railed. “How could the author abandon one of the two main characters, let her disappear so completely I’ve no idea of her fate. Give me a hint. One sentence, please!” We do get a scene  Read More 

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