Village life, allegories, folklore, fantasies, humorous slices of life, coming of age tales, childhood tales or tales fit for children, jumbie stories , talking animal stories, super hero stories , adventure, fairytales, satire are some of the broad umbrellas under which Wadadli Pen stories-thru-the-years shelter. But, boy, these writers don’t play it safe. And I’m not just talking the tales make the writer seem grown before their time in their understanding of grown folks business. No, these young writers go there , particularly when the young writers take on social issues – homelessness, incest, abuse, familial discord, societal apathy and/or hypocrisy.
I tend to think it’s a good thing that rather than bottling up the concerns, they give rein to them in a creatively safe space, a space without judgment or censor. I’ve generally been cool with our writers going wherever the story takes them, especially if there is unsettling for both reader and writer, after all that’s what I do. But someone pointed out to me recently how worrying it is that rather than jumbies, some of these young writers are, on the page, running from the specter of a father who has become the boogie man while God looks the other way…or something like that. Teen tales of abuse and/or dubious consent…some would say a red flag. Fact is though, whether it’s happening to them or not, they live in a world where the headlines scream rape, and incest, and discord…is it any wonder it bleeds over into their imaginative space? Is it any wonder they write it, paint it, sing it? And isn’t it a good thing that they can?
At least, I don’t tend to think of this as a bad thing; the reality sure, but not their ability to bend that reality to their will on the page. I hope writing it gives them a measure of power over their fears and unease, if, in fact, they are feeling fear and unease. I don’t tend to think of it in terms of lost innocence (though perhaps I should). This comes of my own experiences as a writer, my willingness to go there on the page. And, frankly, had someone read the stories and poems I wrote in my teens, it’s quite possible they might have thought me not long for this world. But I’m still here. I tend to give our writers the same benefit of the doubt.
That writing helped and helps me navigate life (still) is part of what I like about it, and I don’t want to be confronted about what it reflects about my life in the readers’ mind. Oftentimes what happens to the characters – such as pregnancy in the case of the teen in the story I wrote as a teen, the one serialized in the local paper, my first publication credit – never happened to me. Not up to now. And where there’s some element of my life in what I write which happens often enough, it’s so twisted it’s no longer fact… I just want the reader to read it and be moved by it in some way. That’s all I want from the reader…that and a positive review if they’re feeling it.
That’s the mind set I project onto the writers submitting to the Challenge, that writing give them a vehicle to explore the issues on their minds, that it free their minds in some way. For those that would be writers, that it set them on that path; for those that wouldn’t that they begin to feel the power of their own voice, and embrace their right to express it.
But what if somewhere in there, in their darker stories, there is a cry for help, how would we know? A question put to me recently by one of our judges. How would we know?
I don’t know the answer to that. But if there is darkness there I hope the process of writing it down allows them to let it go and let a little of the light in…and emboldens them to seek the help they need, if in fact they need help.
Me, I like to think they’re just telling stories.