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Boeke | Books > Boekartikels | Articles on books > English

Women writing for women during Women’s Month III

Arja Salafranca - 2011-08-30

I’ve read two enormously different, but equally moving books in the past weeks – both of which reflect and affirm what I wish for women this month, and in particular women writers. The first was Reclaiming the L-Word: Sappho’s Daughters Out in Africa, edited by Alleyn Diesel (Modjaji Books 2011) and the second was Julia Cameron’s autobiography, Floor Sample: A Creative Memoir (Cameron of The Artist’s Way fame).  

The same week I was reading Reclaiming the L-Word I was also reviewing Out in Africa films and documentaries for the Life section of The Sunday Independent.  I was immersed inthe world of gay struggle and difficulty. My eyes were opened wide to the still difficult plight of gay women throughout Africa, where often gays are persecuted, arrested and even driven from their countries if they want to stay true to themselves. And of course the battle is far from won in our own country – we may have the most liberal laws in the world, but this doesn’t always play out in everyday life. The persecution and fear experienced by so many gay women – especially in black communities – is heart-rending to read about. My wish and plea is that through awareness, helped by books, films, documentaries and so on, which bring the experiences of gay women into general discourse, the stories described will one day not be quite as harrowing as gay men and women receive greater acceptance all over the continent.

Cameron’s memoir served as inspiration and strength as well as affirmation. Reading about her own journey through creativity gives hope. Dedicated to the craft of writing from the age of eighteen, she found herself battling alcoholism in her twenties, before beginning to teach writing, and finding both reward and pleasure in doing so. Her teaching led to the best-selling The Artist’s Way – and the rest is history, sort of. In her forties she found herself suffering psychotic breakdowns – as a child she had watched her parents suffering from repeated breakdowns, and being hospitalised. Today, of course, improved medications mean that there’s hope and a chance of “normality” if these are taken regularly. Cameron talks about the acute sensitivity of artists – and this book served as a reminder to me, at a time when I sorely needed it myself, of the need to take care of our artistic selves. The demands of the working world, family, friends, can all sometimes overwhelm and take precedence over the need to create – and that’s why we’re here of course, and that’s what we need to nurture, daily and yearly.

I needed a reminder, and this book, not chosen online, as that’s the way I buy books these days, was instead picked up at a book sale, seemingly randomly, but there’s nothing random in the inspiration I’ve taken from Cameron’s words and the example of her life – despite the difficulties: two divorces, raising a child as a single mother, and battling both addiction and psychosis – and the strength of her example was exactly what I needed to hear at this time.