Attending the She Writes Press and Spark Point Studio Conference in Scottsdale Arizona this past week exceeded my expectations in so many ways. The mountainous setting, cacti, and beautiful desert flowers reminded me that Texas, my home state, is not the only place in America that can accurately be described as God’s Country!
The conference was well organized, first class and the speakers were phenomenal. Even if the speakers had not been great, it was a terrific experience, in no small matter due to the amazing authors in attendance. I especially appreciated the willingness of others to share the tools that have helped them improve their writing and how they’ve learned from the mistakes they’ve made along the way. Their candor was inspirational. There was no holding back; just supportive, engaging discussion, along with useful tips and suggestions.
The name of the conference, Storytelling for Change, called to me because I am convinced that storytelling can be effective in bringing us together and diminishing our differences.
My first book, Where the Water Meets the Sand, was a memoir about overcoming Clinical Depression, the loss of my husband in Vietnam and my ultimate belief in the goodness of humanity and hope. My second book will launch this summer and is published by SWP. The title is Your Turn, Celebrating Your Life Through Storytelling.
When I first learned of the name of the conference, it felt like a serendipity. Little did I know how much I would learn, how many new friends I would meet and how many diverse authors would be represented. I loved that part. Throughout my own life, I have embraced the richness that comes with having friendships and professional colleagues from different races, faiths, backgrounds, and with distinct life goals. The retreat was a bastion of people who were representative of the vast diversity that exists within our country and the world.
I met so many good people and was particularly impressed with author, Karen Keilt. Born and educated in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Karen’s book, the Parrot’s Perch, is a powerful accounting of her life’s story of being kidnapped and tortured. In it, she recounts growing up in Brazil―from her exclusive, upper-class lifestyle and dreams of Olympic medals to her turmoil-filled youth. The book is filled with hints of a dark oligarchy, corruption, crime, and military interference, and is a searing tale of suffering, struggle―and survival.
Karen and I sat together throughout the conference. The more I learned about her, the more awestruck I became because of her resilience, hope and kindness. Karen is one of several friends I met at the Conference and certainly someone I will continue to enjoy over time.
The speakers were open and willing to share both the good and difficult aspects of getting their book published. Their consistent, and inspirational mantra was, “Keep writing. Reach out to others. Believe in your message. Don’t give up.”
Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing, was our keynote speaker. Seldom am I overwhelmed by a keynote speaker but I must say, when Jesmyn began to speak, after dinner at our outdoor venue I was moved. She talked about her experience growing up in Mississippi and about raising her children there.
As she spoke, I felt my muscles tighten. Her voice was clear, smooth and determined, not mean or rude, and yet my soul felt a defiant tone. By the time she finished, I understood why. I didn’t grow up in Mississippi. I grew up in Texas where discrimination toward African Americans and Hispanics was real. I am white, not black or brown, but I related to her message. Her comments took me back to my teaching experience in Topeka, Kansas at East Topeka Junior High across the street from Monroe School, a school where African American children attended and where Linda Brown had to attend even though it was further than the white school closer to her home. I remembered some of my neighbors in the affluent white side of town expressed their concern for me because I taught in a black neighborhood rather than a white neighborhood. Their comments irritated me and I responded, “I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else.”
The next day, Jesmyn spoke to our group again and I had the opportunity to speak with her privately for a few minutes. I thanked her for her book, her candor and must have sounded like a groupie as I “oohed” and “ahhed” over her moving words the night before and her book, Sing, Unburied, Sing. As I readied Sunday morning, for my flight back to San Antonio, I carefully pack my signed copy of Jesmyn’s book.
The experience of connecting with other authors confirmed that I am not the only author who manages to write only one good paragraph on some days, while other days, I can’t write fast enough to keep up with what’s in my brain trying to spill out on the page. This was my first conference with Brooke Warner and Crystal Patriarche. I plan to go again and again which means I will keep writing and writing. The camaraderie I encountered with other authors, the willingness of them to share ideas and make suggestions left my spirit uplifted and committed to continuing to write. How could I possibly stop now?
(c) Tyra Manning 2018