Jeanette Winterson on Writing & Truth

You must read this. The novelist & essayist Jeanette Winterson has written a heart-wrenching and illuminating piece for the Guardian about her terrible childhood, and how literature became her lifeboat.  For those of you who’ve engaged in autobiography via playwriting, or hope to find ways to tell the difficult parts of your own stories through art, Winterson is someone you should know.  (You may remember her from her brilliant essay on how to look at paintings, “Art Objects.”)  I happen to love Winterson’s writing in general, but am a particular fan of her  lesbian literary scifi like Stone Gods, or historical reimaginings like Sexing the Cherry.

A few excerpts from the Guardian piece that I found especially resonant:

“Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world.”

“I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself.”

“I asked my mother why we couldn’t have books, and she said, “The trouble with a book is that you never know what’s in it until it’s too late.” I thought to myself, “Too late for what?”"

“Growing up is difficult. Strangely, even when we have stopped growing physically, we seem to have to keep on growing emotionally, which involves both expansion and shrinkage, as some parts of us develop and others must be allowed to disappear … Rigidity never works; we end up being the wrong size for our world.”

“I was confused about sex and sexuality, and upset about the straightforward practical problems of where to live, what to eat, and how to do my A levels. I had no one to help me, but the TS Eliot helped me. So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. {boldface emphasis mine}

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One Comment

kmjiang posted on November 1, 2011 at 10:23 pm

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning — to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

- to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

~ Tony Hoagland

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