What’s the point of writing?
When faced with questions like that, Janice Eidus quotes Sylvia Plath: “I write only because / There is a voice within me / That will not be still.”
“I want to talk (at my lecture) about voices that cannot be stilled,” said Eidus, a novelist, educator and the Week Four prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “I’ll talk about writers that have been very influential on me, but also real-life people who have been very influential. A few of the writers I plan to look at are James Baldwin, Edgar Allan Poe, Martin Luther King, Jr. and a British writer who had an incredible cult following, Angela Carter.”
Eidus said she wants to inspire her audience to think about “these voices that I’m talking about, but also the voices that have mattered to them, and why they love these voices.”
The ultimate goal of her virtual week at Chautauqua, according to Eidus, is to help her audience learn to evoke their own voice.
At 12:30 p.m. EDT Friday, July 24, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch, Eidus will give a Brown Bag craft lecture on “The Voices We Love,” a lecture which complements — in many ways — her week-long prose workshop “Voice, Vision, & Re-Vision.” Eidus is the two-time winner of the O. Henry Prize as well as a Pushcart Prize. Among her novels are The War Of The Rosens; Urban Bliss; and The Last Jewish Virgin. Her short story collections include Vito Loves Geraldine and The Celibacy Club.
For the emerging authors in her workshops, Eidus said she wants them to know that writing ought to be a practice.
“Make your writing a writing practice: Don’t wait for the muse to appear,” she said. “It’s a practice in the same way I practice yoga. The muse will appear now and then, but if you wait for the muse, you’re not going to get that ongoing experience of writing.”
To be a writer, to be a thoughtful human being, Eidus said people need to read.
“Read across genres, read across gender, read globally,” she said. “I meet people — they’re 25 and they’re Caucasian and they’re living in New York or San Francisco, and they read voices that are just like their own, or very similar. I think that’s wonderful, but I think they should also be reading stuff by elderly Argentinian men, that sort of thing.”
A huge controversy in the world of literature is the ethical portrayal of voices that have been “othered” by society — a controversy Eidus said she is well aware of, given the current social and political atmosphere.
“So much of it is in the execution, and in the authenticity,” Eidus said. “Very often, someone trying to speak in the voice of another doesn’t do it well or authentically. Can it ever be done in that way? I think yes, but we as readers have become way more sensitive to looking for truth and authenticity, and very often people fall short.”
Ultimately, the question of whether or not writers can adopt voices different from their own is not one Eidus said she has a definitive answer to.
“That’s something that contemporary writers and readers and artists in general are struggling with at this point,” she said. “I think it’s a work in progress, a fascinating work in progress. We’re in the middle of such upheaval in the world in so many ways.”