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Chicago Public Library celebrates women writers with panel

By Katherine Hall
On August 2, 2011

When one thinks of "great writers", the tendency is first to think of men: Shakespeare, Milton, or Tolstoy, to name a few. A great many men have contributed to our literary canon over the decades. It is only in the last century or so, though, that a concerted effort has been made to study and celebrate the work of great female authors.

On July 28, the Chicago Public Library did just that, hosting a group author reading to celebrate women writers. Titled "Rediscovering Literature by Women", the event featured three authors whose works are featured in CALYX, a journal of literature and art by women: poets Ruth Goring and Ellen Savage, and Jacqueline Taylor, author and dean of the College of Communication.

The women spoke before a small but lively group at the Harold Washington Library, reading from their collections and discussing inspiration, how they began writing, and the importance of writing with a support network.

"About eight years ago, a yoga teacher of mine began and ended each session with poetry," Savage explained at the start of her read. "I caught the bug from that."

Her poetry, she says, came from a variety of experiences: from her love of nature, to her craft as a musician, to her years of experience as a obstetrical nurse.

For Taylor and Goring, writing was something they had wanted to do for a long time.

"I wanted to be a poet at age 7," Goring said.

Her poetry, much of it inspired by her time growing up in Colombia, ranged widely between gentle topics like the curiosity of children, to deeper ones, like the war in Colombia and the women there who work for justice and peace. Goring may have been convinced of her vocation as a child, but said that as she got older, she realized that writing, though it was her calling, was not a job which could provide financial stability.

"[Writing] is not a job with a salary attached," agreed Taylor, whose degree in performance studies and work at DePaul gave her the opportunity to do "a different kind of writing." Taylor read a segment from her memoir, "Waiting for the Call: from Preacher's Daughter to Lesbian Mom," about finally getting married to her longtime partner in Vancouver.

Her engaging narration drew many laughs from the audience - in deciding where in Canada to be married they agreed, "not Toronto. Too boring!" - but also nods of understanding as she discussed the frustration of going from Canada, where her marriage was an uncomplicated fact, to the U.S. where her marital status varied from state to state.

While their inspiration and backgrounds are diverse, when asked how they got their start writing, the three women shared one important aspect: a group.

"I cannot overemphasize the importance of workshops...groups," Goreng said to the audience.

While writing itself is a solitary endeavor, all three authors found readers, constructive criticism, and supporters by seeking out the writing communities in their areas. It enabled them to set time aside to write consistently and regularly.

"It's important NOT to wait for inspiration," she said.

Though it was not a long event - a little more than an hour - "Rediscovering Literature by Women" successfully delivered a dual message: it celebrated three women writers and, by extension, women writers throughout history, but it also served as a reminder that writing, reading, and celebrating literature is a community effort, one meant to be shared by everyone. By coming together to hear about the ideas and experiences of others, we come away richer, and can apply those ideas and experiences to our individual lives.

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