By Jessica Ayers
In an intimate gathering, Brookhaven College students, faculty and staff listened as three talented women provided a glimpse into their experiences as women in the literary world. They gave advice ranging from how to construct writing processes to ways of staying relevant in an ever-changing industry. Attendees were offered a dose of personal anecdotes to make up a well-rounded discussion Feb. 11 in the Performance Hall.
“I want them to know that the state of women in literature … is changing,” panelist Camika Spencer said. She said it is important for women writers to diversify their purpose and push the bounds of race and class distinction.
Spencer is a self-published, best-selling author of three novels and a well-known singer, spoken word artist and activist in Dallas.
Accompanying Spencer on the panel were two other women of literature. Michelle Navarro is a history professor at Richland College and is working to complete her doctorate in humanities from the University of Dallas.
Kaylie Jones is a professor of creative writing for two Master of Fine Arts programs in New York, an award-winning author of seven novels and founder of the Kaylie Jones Books publishing company.
The panel was the brain child of Ashley Balcazar, a leader of Brookhaven’s Windmill Writers Club. The club, along with the Communications Division, hosted the event. “I think it’s great to get the word out about local artists in literature, and the fact that it’s women in literature sends a great message,” Balcazar said.
According to Brookhaven’s website, in Fall 2013, women made up nearly 60 percent of the student population. The event was an attempt to connect with women, who make up the majority of the population at Brookhaven, Balcazar said.
“As women, our capacity to connect is a lot stronger … because of our natural ability to be vessels for life,” Spencer said.
Though the audience was mostly made up of women, it was racially diverse. “I’m hoping for them to find us relatable,” Navarro said.
She added that it is beneficial for students to see women writers and artists of color sharing their stories. “[They’re] always looking for someone to identify with [in the] movies they watch, the TV shows, pop stars … and now with books, they need to be reading their own cultural background,” Navarro said.
Though the panel discussion targeted women and minorities, the advice offered could have been applied to any demographic. The panelists stressed the importance of cultivating a writing process that works and silencing the self-critic within.
“A two-minute meditation will save you hours and hours of stress and anxiety because you have to learn how to silence the critic who tells you that you have no business writing,” Jones said. “After that, you’re free to sit down and let that energy flow.” Both Navarro and Spencer agreed that having a writing process is necessary to be a good writer.
The women also spoke on the effect critics can have on one’s writing. “I didn’t realize how much of an introvert I was until my writing got out in the world and people started to criticize,” Spencer said. “You can get 3,000 accolades and one criticism, and that’s the one thing you remember.”
She also emphasized the need for self-reflection to determine internal and external writing roadblocks. She said students these days are bombarded by countless distractions. “I come from a world where you could take the phone off the hook and that was all you needed to do,” Spencer said, “where you have all of this beautiful, genuine space pre-created for you … now you have to create it.”
Navarro said she had to make amends with being a writer in this day and age. “I’ve kind of had to make peace with technology,” she said. “Technology can work in favor of writers when it is used as a tool. Accessibility to blogs, writers’ websites and forums allows students to use the Internet to fine-tune their writing skills.”
Jones shared a story about the death of her father and how, after reading the work of a famed author, she was able to resolve his death. She said it blew her mind how a 150-year-old text could change her life. “That’s when I realized it was crucial to write,” she said. “Writing is the most powerful tool to express.”
Though all of the panelists agreed that writing was a need, they also stressed that, similar to sports, it is something that requires plenty of practice. “You can train yourself to be a dedicated writer … like martial arts,” Jones said. “You go every day, and you learn to use those muscles. And the more you do it, the better you get.”
The panelists said students should read as much and as often as they can because part of being a great writer is studying and recognizing great writing.
Knowledge and instruction were provided throughout the discussion, with the panelists touching on the importance of womens’ impact and roles in literature. “I think our voices are the most crucial when it comes to shedding light on how things should be,” Spencer said. “Not just for us, but for the world.”
Navarro echoed this sentiment. “Our voice is vital,” she said. “It creates empathy and it creates compassion.”
As the audience dispersed, Hanna Bodenhorn, a student, stayed to express her appreciation for the insight gained from the discussion. “[I learned] you can’t really rely on what other people’s thoughts and pre-conceptions are,” Bodenhorn said. “You just have to do whatever it is that you have to do.” Bodenhorn said her major is undecided, but the event will help in her decision-making process.
On April 25, in honor of National Poetry Month, the Windmill Writers Club will host an event sponsored by the North Texas Food Bank titled “Louder Than a Bomb.”
There will be workshops and a poetry slam competition involving four teams, including one from Brookhaven’s Early College High School. For more information, readers can contact the Windmill Writers Club at [email protected] gmail.com.