These days, I’m thinking about beginnings. After a four-month search into the soul-crushing seller’s market of Dallas-Fort Worth, my husband and I are officially homeowners now (arg!) and have moved into our first house. It’s a huge transition period, and since I’m still working from home, I’m able to sit and visualize in our new home, thinking about new sofas and how to use a gas stove and daydreaming about my new IKEA bookshelf. I’m pretty reflective these days about how far we’ve come as a family and the years ahead. It’s also been two and half years since another significant beginning, one that has understandably and improbably changed my life. It was the day after the 2016 presidential election, and with a broken heart and almost shattered spirit, I sat down and wrote my first blog post.
Most of us remember how we felt that day, and it’s not lost on me that this blog was born not out of positivity and love, but out of anger, regardless of what I might have written in that first post. On November 9th, 2016, I had never felt more out of place, more marginalized, more afraid of my fellow citizens. But because I am more stubborn than any other trait you can name, I was determined to not let the fear take over. With this blog, I was sure I could carve out a place in the hateful bedrock and declare, “I am meant to be here. This is what is important to me. These stories and voices are valuable and essential to our nation and our global culture, and we all need to be reading and hearing them.” Like the inimitable Maxine Waters, I was here to reclaim my time, my energy, and my resources, and use them in a way to uplift the voices that had been ignored for too long.
Voicefull has tangibly accomplished the second part of that proclamation. People I know and strangers from countries thousands of miles away are reading this blog and, more importantly, buying the books written by these incomparable writers. Friends have come back into my life after years of separation because they want to talk about these books with me. It’s become exactly what I wanted: people reading more and thinking about how and why what they read matters.
What I never anticipated was the deep, internal impact that Voicefull would have on me, as a reader, as a woman, as a writer, as a child of non-white immigrants, regardless of my announcement on that terrible day in November. From the way I inhabit the physical spaces around me to the way I inhabit the stories I recommend, I exist differently now. These books have rewired my brain and heart so much so that I almost feel like a new person. The best way I can describe this new feeling is this: while I’ve loved words my whole life, and while I’ve always felt this otherworldly connection to crafting meaning out of letters and punctuation marks on the page, I have never felt like I actually belonged inside of the stories these words created.
Most of the literary worlds I inhabited as a child and as a student didn’t have people like me in them. I’m not just talking about my heritage here, or my skin color. I’m saying in the long list of books I read in school and for my personal pleasure, I didn’t encounter women making their own choices and reflecting on their lives. I didn’t see real agency or the potential for a better world in these books. I read great stories about interesting characters thrown into adventure, but by the end of most of these narratives, I didn’t really feel anything. I didn’t believe that I was capable of living out these stories or internalizing the messages the authors intended to impart.
But since November 2016, I’ve taken a good, hard look at myself and the way I consume media, and because I’ve devoted my time and energy to hundreds of books written by women of color, I feel different. These writers, regardless of the orientation or ethnicity or gender of their characters, write textured stories that matter. Their characters feel real, rooted in the complicated intersections of gender, race, class, and the specific contexts of their worlds. But most importantly, these writers are inclusive in their writing. They welcome every reader into their worlds through the way they embrace every possible human difference. These extraordinary women writers of color embrace differences in mental health, in sexuality, in the nuances of heritage and community. It’s difficult for me to put it into words, but these women build worlds that I want to be in and that would welcome me with open arms.
Because of Voicefull, books are no longer just a lesson in craftsmanship or a place to study how other more worthy characters get to live fascinating lives. These stories, and the many more I will share with you all, offer a glimpse into how we can all live fuller lives and teach us that we owe it to ourselves to interrogate what makes us happy, and what makes us us. So get ready, y’all, because my new bookshelf is overflowing with stories that you’re going to love, and I am just getting started.
P.S. I had the extraordinary opportunity to interview Chaya Bhuvaneswar for the Chicago Review of Books earlier this year. We had such a great conversation over email – read it here!
Cover photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash
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