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WOMEN, AGING, AND POWER

Nude Self Portrait by Alice Neel at age 80!

This self portrait by the late painter Alice Neel so inspires me. Remnants of the "beauty myth" females are fed all our lives – i.e. we must be conventionally beautiful to be accepted and loved – still cling to most of us, even in our elder years. As our bodies inevitably sag, thanks to the wonderful power of gravity which holds us firmly to earth, it becomes harder to look firmly in the mirror without turning away. Read More 

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WORDS MATTER!

Joan on "Black Lives Matter Plaza," aka her driveway. Three powerful word--Black Lives Matter--ignited a long-smoldering movement.

They initiated a new intensity, with sustained national commitment.

Photo by Tim Wagstaffe, 2020


 The written word has ignited revolutions, toppled dictatorships. A well-told narrative, activating the story-telling DNA lodged deep in our bones, has the power to heal rifts or pour balm on festering wounds. With it we can foster new visions about who we are as a people--or who we might become. Writing is one of our most robust artistic instruments for deep social impact, at its best fostering empathy for people we might never meet, inspiring us to compassionate action. Writing can lead us deep inside, altering an internal landscape. How many of us have been forever changed by something we've read at a critical juncture? 

 

While we hear often how influential writing can be for readers, less is said of its impact on authors. The act of composing can also resolve questions within the writer. Even the process of tapping computer keys or placing Read More 

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HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY !!

 

 

Photo by Joan Lester, March, 1977, NYC

Made into a postcard by Mardi Steinau

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IN CHURCH WITH MS. FANNIE LOU HAMER, ATLANTIC CITY, 1964

Our rag-tag group slept on the pews in our sleeping bags, jammed together, giddy, singing freedom songs half the night. "We shall overcome, some day." My sleeping bag, borrowed from a friend, was damp with sweat while I lay in the hot, muggy church, fervent with hope.

 

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CARIOL HORNE, SOCIAL JUSTICE HERO

Cariol Horne, Former Buffalo
Police Officer


Cariol Horne is my newest social justice hero.  A Black Buffalo, New York police officer in 2006, she forcibly intervened when her fellow officer Gregory Kwiatkowski was viciously beating Neal Mack, a Black man.

 

Cariol Horne reaffirms my conviction that no matter the obstacles, if we hold fast to a vision of justice and keep moving toward it, we will indeed overcome.She heard Mack gasp, "I can't breathe" after Kwiatkowski put him in a chokehold, with a knee to the neck.

 

"Let him go!" she screamed.

 

But Kwiatkowski didn't move. Read More 

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LOVE IS LOVE IS LOVE

Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Loving

THIS ESSAY FIRST APPEARED IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES ON JUNE 6, 2021

REPRINTED JUNE 7 IN THE NEW YORK TIMES ONLINE PUBLICATION "THE MORNING"

 

 
After three years of marriage, my writer husband Julius Lester and I had worked out a good arrangement: He wrote in our grimy New York apartment, taught a few guitar students and cared for baby Rosa while I attended City College graduate school. My fellowship funded it all.

 

But late one January night he stood in our kitchen, stirring diapers boiling on the stove, and told me he'd decided to move South. He wanted to be a cultural worker for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. I looked at him in disbelief.

 

"We said we'd never be apart," I told him while I rocked Rosa, asleep in her carriage.  

 

When he said he had to go, I responded "Take me with you." Our baby could come too.

 

But he said he couldn't take a white wife. It was too dangerous. We might be arrested or killed. For him, the South was home. I would be a tourist. He said it was his revolutionary duty. "I'm called to go," he said. "By myself." Read More 

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WHITE SUPREMACY, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Next to my driveway, aka Black Lives Matter Plaza 
Photo by Tim Wagstaffe.

 

I used to think I was among the wokest of the woke.  Naturally I wouldn't have said so aloud, but after all, I, a white woman, had married a Black man before that was even legal, nationally. Raised our biracial children. Trained anti-racist leaders. Published pro-equity books and op-eds. Marched and chanted.

 

But after May 25, 2020, when George Floyd screamed for his mama and people poured out of lockdown, something new broke open inside me. As well as inside everyone I know.

 

Black friends grew bolder. Scorched by racism all their lives they'd adapted, these successful women had perhaps grown a bit cautious. Now I'm watching folks I've known for decades become fervently political. They're expressing rage, loudly, plus their fierce pride. Read More 

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WOMEN WRITER'S MANIFESTO

Cover of my 6th book, a memoir

 

 

When people ask me what do you do, for the last twenty-five years I've answered, "I'm a writer." Sometimes I add, "An author." 

 

If the questioner still looks blank, I'll say, with authority, "I'm a professional writer."

 

I've learned to define myself in a powerful tone because so many people have odd assumptions about a woman writer. Several years ago, for instance, a chipper young teller at the bank window asked me, "What are you doing today?" 

 

Eager to get moving, I replied somewhat crisply, "I'm writing. Like I do every day. I'm a writer."

 

"Oh, how nice," she said, with syrup in her voice. "It gives you something to fill your time." Read More 

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Sentences

Zee Lewis, Oakland, sent this lovely photo

 

 I, who love words so much, am surprised to find myself newly enchanted with the sentence as a unit of language. Sentences in all their delicious variety, some with many clauses, dipping in and out, amplifying a theme before it brings itself, sharply, to a halt.

 

Or long sentences that make you think, having to puzzle out their meaning, like digging into a pomegranate to get the sweet, juicy seeds. Laborious, but usually worth it. Then there are the short, declarative sentences that command attention. Look up! they say.

 

The lowly sentence, which all of us use every day, is the building block of prose.  Read More 

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Writing LOVING BEFORE LOVING: A MARRIAGE IN BLACK AND WHITE

Julius Lester and Joan at a march in

Washington, D.C., demanding the Federal

government protect civil rights workers

in Mississippi. 1964
 

 

  

If I had a nickel for each time a stranger has told me, "I know my life would be a bestseller!" I'd be wealthy. Sometimes they even offer their story, asking me to simply write it down. "My life has been so amazing, the book would write itself."

 

Well, not really. Books do not write themselves, and the record of lives is not laid out like a script, awaiting only transcription. A memoir, like any other book, is a deliberately created piece of art, using, in this case, one's life as the clay. But there are endless possibilities for shaping the raw material. What is the theme? The voice? Which events to include, which to highlight, how to connect them all? And why now? Read More 

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WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A WRITER AND AN AUTHOR?

Joan Signing at Diesel Books, Oakland
Photo by Rob Shiefer

 

What is the difference between being a writer and an author? I am sometimes asked. The process of writing a book (I have completed eight and sold seven) is so lengthy, so all-consuming, that it merits the separate designation. Author: a person who has completed a grueling, rewarding activity, composing a coherent narrative of some length—generally at least 60,000 words. Keeping track of all the threads over many years and tying them together, while maintaining some linguistic elegance, is quite different from the week-long task of writing an essay or article.

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ADVICE TO ASPIRING WRITERS

Signing books at Mrs. Dalloway's

Bookstore, Berkeley, CA

So many people yearn for the inspired self-expression that writing provides. If putting pen to paper is the creative mode that makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning, bursting with ideas, plunge in. Some artists find exquisite pleasure in painting or sculpting. But if playing with words lifts your heart, there are multiple paths for you.

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