Tuesday, July 5, 2011


When I was working on my undergraduate degree at Eastern Michigan University, I had a writing class with a lit prof who was from Trinidad named Brenda Flanagan. She was an artistic type, a bit scattered, unpredictable, which goes with the territory, but she was also good at inspiring students to write something creative and real.

By “real” I don’t necessarily mean a heartrending saga of hopeless heroism. That’s what most people seem to think of these days when you say “real.” To be taken seriously you must be some kind of tortured soul. Which is fine, but it’s also very limiting. There is so much more to “real” than that. The word “authentic” is better. Joy, curiosity, laughter, simplicity, and so on and so forth. It’s all real, as long as it’s . . . authentic.

When we would present stories in class, Dr. Flanagan would listen, and she would comment in the margins of her copy, with simple words like “yes,” or “”what?” or “I don’t believe it.” The point was that it was either connecting with her or it wasn’t. It was seeming “real” to her or it wasn’t.

The thing I remember most about this prof was her love for the sound of words. She heard the spoken word, I think, like some of us hear music. And that was inspirational to me. I had already had a taste of this mind-set with the writings of Ray Bradbury, when I was younger, as well as Toni Morrison and E.L. Doctorow. Dr. Flanagan introduced me to Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison. It was like discovering treasure. She showed me that “real” is about the totality of a person coming out in what they write. It’s about the characters not being true to the author, but being true to themselves.

The reason she has come to mind is because, a while back, I stumbled onto some videos of her on youtube. She was doing some cultural exchange trips for the state department in former Soviet controlled countries, reading some of her poetry and I suppose doing workshops on African American lit. It was cool to see her doing her thing. After that, I went on Amazon and found a copy of her first book. When I knew her, it had been published in England, but not the States. I found a copy printed by the University of Michigan and I’m reading it now.

It has lots of flave-ah. The words roll around in your head. Smooth like.

And it has all made me think about how someone who is passionate can influence others in so many ways. It all adds up, these people who care enough to talk things through and make us think outside the box.

I’ve known people who kept spouting off about how they were going to change the world, but they were not doing much to change the life of one single person for the better. Helping one person seemed to be beneath them in some way. At least according to their own way of thinking.

I’d trade a dozen of those arrogant, so called “world changers” for one or two humble and influential life changers any day.

Peace to you.

© LW Publishing 2011

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