A Justification for Writers

The following is by Writers in the Grove member Gretchen Keefer, and is based upon the prompt, “Writing in another’s skin.”

Recently a writer colleague commented on her experience describing her novel to an agent. As she listed the difficulties her black heroine faced, the agent stopped her and asked, “Have you had a black person read this?” (For “read” see “approve”.) Apparently this agent felt a white woman could not write about a black woman. Can she?

Whatever my characters may look like physically, one or another of them is expressing my point of view, my opinions, and my philosophy. That is what I know and that is why I am writing. There is something that needs to be said and I feel prompted to say it, however I can.

Most of my characters are women, of course. I haven’t assigned them a color or ethnicity (except maybe in fantasy stories). It helps that my stories are short and often the events depicted are more important that any physical description of the characters. I think actors of any ethnicity could portray my characters.

I admit I do not know about prejudice or abuse first hand. I have never personally lived through a fire, earthquake or other natural disaster that destroys all my worldly possessions. I haven’t had an amputation or been raped. Does that mean I cannot write about these types of experiences? There is a wealth of information available to provide background color while focusing on resilience, forgiveness, redemption, family unity, courage and love.

In my collage literature classes we were taught that “great” or “good” literature that stood the test of time was written around universal themes – themes that appealed to a majority of people across cultures. That is why these pieces are still read and studied long after the authors are dead. Shakespeare borrowed many stories from the Italian Renaissance, yet his plays are translated and performed around the world. So what if Olivier played Othello in black makeup? Were there any classical black actors in Britain in the 1950’s? Denzel Washington, a black actor, played the (Italian) duke in a recent film version of As You Like It, with no comments about looking different from the other actors.

The play (or other story) is the thing to capture the mind (paraphrasing Hamlet). The story is what counts, not what color the characters may be.

So I say to my colleague, and to all writers, “You go girl!”

Write what you need to write, however it works out.


Prompt: The Roles We Play

Living up to roles, the things I’m “supposed” to be. Some are not welcome, some have been around so long, they are a part of us. Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond, brought in the prompt:

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
From My Fair Lady, “A Hymn to Him” sung by Henry Higgins, lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

Your prompt is to address the issues of roles, be it why a woman can’t play the roles of a man, or any roles we play in life.


The following is by William Stafford, a member of Writer’s in the Grove.

He really did believe it could be possible.

He had been collecting possible all during his 70 plus years. He had stacked them in the corner of his room and the stack was about 4 feet high. The weight must be considerable.

He was always wanting to dig through it, but had a hard time. There wasn’t any light in the room, except for the light coming through the small gap at the bottom of the door and when that light was out it was a black, black place.

He knew that the basis of his possible was prejudice. He also knew that common consensus was prejudice was synonymous with racial problems, well he thought that was sin ominous. Prejudice was learned and perpetuated by all of those surrounding the younger generations and through actions and words planting bad seeds. We can be prejudiced with food, politics, weather, color, smell and almost anything else that we face daily.

What he wished for was a new plan.

He wanted everyone in the world to get a box and each morning write those things that they were prejudiced about, on a piece of paper. Vow not to be that way today. Fold that paper and put it in the box. At the end of each month everyone in the community met at a central location and burn those boxes. He hoped the heat would sooner or later end prejudice and end his search for possible.

I Fit The Description

The following is by Writers in the Grove leader, Mary Jane Nordgren, inspired by Prompt: I Fit the Description.

Quiet. Shaking, but not challenging, not running – just standing and taking it. But shaken, and it could have been any one of us stopped and questioned by the police.

Unless we are known, and respected, our words are not accepted as true. We are vulnerable by virtue of decisions we made while having no way of knowing they might matter. Accused because of what we chose to wear to work that morning.

I chose a brown knit shirt today, not knowing that a gray-haired lady in a brown knit shirt hit a child this morning with her car and drove away without stopping. Could I have stood quietly allowing suspicion to surround me? Could I have waited in silence for ten minutes, forty-five minutes as patrol cars hemmed me in and others circled the block again and again? Could I have held without arguing or crying or answering in anger while the only person in support was a woman far down the block who did not know me, but at least appeared concerned?

I am frightened of suspicion. It disintegrates all trust. What is safe? Where is safety? How can we develop trust in a world of “them?” In a world where I am a grayed-haired lady in a brown knit shirt? Can I count on that crime always to have been committed in Maryland and not Oregon where I live? How do we build community that shelters each of us, gives each of us credence despite our unwitting choices? How can I help?

Simply because I am one of the majority, I must remember that fear emasculates belief in self-worth, in security. I dare not sigh in relief – it may be me, next time.

The Fiery Red Head

The following is by member, Lorelle VanFossen, and based upon the Prompt: I Fit the Description.

Brakes squealed on the street net to where we walked. I glanced over to watch a car jam in front of another to reach a parking spot.

“Asshole.” It slipped out unconsciously.

The client walking next to me, a middle aged man with a problem he determined I could solve during one just completed lunch meeting, responded, “I just love red heads. Such fiery tempers. That’s why I hired you on the spot. With hair the color of yours, I knew you had what it took to get the job done.”

If I didn’t need the money, I would have called him an asshole, too. Instead, I made a mental note to check the bathroom trash at home to retrieve the box of hair dye.

– – – – – – – –

We define ourselves to differentiate, then expect society to change. I live and work in an industry where the freedom of speech can be a death sentence and the invisibility of the virtual world comes with a magnifying glass.

Man’s Inhumanity to Man

The following is based upon the Prompt: I Fit the Description, and is written by Parks Adams.

Man’s inhumanity to man. If you are different, you do not deserve respect. If you are different, you are under suspicion when bad things happen. The core of discrimination.

We are not all created equal by the Creator even though the Creator does not play favorites. The discrimination goes both ways. Whoever is in the minority or lowest economic strata.

Why can we not accept that there is a part of the Creator in each of us. what is the risk of giving everyone a fair shake? Maybe we have to give up our own prejudices.

Prompt: I Fit the Description

The prompt this week was inspired by the blog post by Steve Locke called “I fit the description….” The photograph taken by the author features him wearing a knit cap, sunglasses, hoody covered by a jacket, slacks, fashion tennis shoes, and a Boston College faculty identity card on a lanyard, which the article describes in more depth.

This is what I wore to work today.

On my way to get a burrito before work, I was detained by the police.

I noticed the police car in the public lot behind Centre Street. As I was walking away from my car, the cruiser followed me. I walked down Centre Street and was about to cross over to the burrito place and the officer got out of the car.

“Hey my man,” he said.

He unsnapped the holster of his gun.

I took my hands out of my pockets.

“Yes?” I said.

“Where you coming from?”


Where’s home?”


How’d you get here?”

“I drove.”

He was next to me now. Two other police cars pulled up. I was standing in from of the bank across the street from the burrito place. I was going to get lunch before I taught my 1:30 class. There were cops all around me.

I said nothing. I looked at the officer who addressed me. He was white, stocky, bearded.

“You weren’t over there, were you?” He pointed down Centre Street toward Hyde Square.

“No. I came from Dedham.”

“What’s your address?”

I told him.

“We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s house.”

Inspired by the post, the Monday morning workshop group wrote on the subject of prejudice, false accusations, assumptions, and profiling.