Joyce Hinnefeld


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lovers, Mentors, Mothers

My copy of the latest issue of the literary magazine PEN America (#13) arrived yesterday, and it’s full of great stuff. I’ve been savoring remarks included in a forum called “Lovers,” in which a wide array of writers are invited to share thoughts about “a writer who is especially dear to you--a literary mentor, forebear, friend, or lover . . . .” The responses are varied and delightful--Yusef Komunyakaa writing about Frederick Douglass, Michael Cunningham about Grace Paley, Russell Banks about James Baldwin, and many more. Why is it so moving to hear writers gratefully acknowledging their mentors or the writers who have moved them deeply?

In just a couple hours I’m supposed to speak informally at a lunch for new faculty at Moravian College, where I teach, about finding a balance among the various expectations of faculty (teaching, research and writing, campus and community service), as well as a healthy work/life balance. I laughed when I was asked to speak on this topic, because I am chronically asking other people how to do this--especially other people who are writers, teachers, and parents. I feel like I have lots of questions but fewer answers.

So I was especially touched by Elissa Schappell’s comments in this PEN America forum, titled “Are You My Mother?” and addressing the life and work of writer Dawn Powell. I especially loved these lines:

I confess that I am often frustrated by the notion that it’s impossible for a woman to be a wife and mother and first-rate writer. That any female artist who hopes to ever be as highly regarded as her male counterparts should start packing for Bellevue. That any woman who chooses her children’s company--nay, relishes it--is a sap who has consigned her Nobel dreams to the scrap heap. It is in these moments I need Dawn Powell the most.

I read a reissued novel by Dawn Powell years ago, and I remember really liking it. This fond homage by Schappell has made me want to read more.

And if someone can tell me, once and for all, how to add teaching and campus and community service to that mix (of “wife and mother and first-rate writer”) without “packing for Bellevue,” I’d be grateful. Even more grateful if you can get word to me before 11:45 today, when the new faculty lunch is scheduled to begin.

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