Wordsmiths Listen, Give Support
When it is her turn to read, Randee Eddins hesitates.
From a stack of files on her lap, she picks up a spiral notebook and starts flipping through the pages. She arrives at one of her newest works - a vignette from a play she's writing - and wonders out loud whether to share the pieces, which she says are too new, too personal. She decides to take the chance.
"I have to get up to read this," she explained, laughing at her own intensity. Her dancer's body springs from a director's chair, and she paces across the room, bisecting the circle of expectant listeners. Then just as suddenly she changes her mind, and she decides to read the pieces sitting down.
Others in the group, members of the recently formed African-American Writer's Alliance (AAWA), are bemused by the sudden display of indecisiveness, but also empathetic.
When the time comes for them to read, most will also fumble through introductory remarks before leaping like a trapeze artist to embrace the unknown.
For the members of the group, AAWA is a safety net. It is where the writers gathered are encouraged to take chances and yet be assured the landing is soft.
"This is a group that has been brought together on the idea of support," said Michael Hureaux, a poet. "There's been very little of the wars, the many wars that come about in groups like this."
Eddins, whose moments of indecisiveness are few, is the powerhouse behind the group, which began meeting in March in the basement of the Douglass-Truth Library.
It was her idea to form the group, her efforts that led to the first meetings, and her drive that keeps the level of enthusiasm high.
AAWA now has about 30 members, including poets, playwrights, nonfiction writers, songwiters, novelists and short-story writers, who meet on the first and third Saturday of each month. Their next meeting is tomorrow.
The main reason for forming the group was a selfish one, said Eddins, a 35-year-old former dancer and actress who moved to Seattle from California in 1986.
"It started out as a New Year's resolution," she said. "I've been looking for a group like this and I couldn't find one in the Seattle area. I wanted to start the group for myself. I was looking for help with my writing and an outlet for my works."
It was a need that was being felt by other African-American writers.
"There's a group that gets together and reads the works of black writers, but I wanted a group for writers who are writing now," said Hureaux. "I also I wanted a group that would hip our community about who's out there now."
Meetings typically start out with housekeeping: attendance sheets, discussions of group projects, talk about coming events. With those out of the way, they start the readings - the very heart of each gathering.
The group attracts writers from varied backgrounds and different levels of experience. Some, like Hureaux and Eddins, have been writing for years and been published, while others are novices.
In readings, too, there are differing styles, and those with a performing background have a clear advantage over their peers in presenting their works.
When Hureaux, a former member of Choreopoets, a group of black performing poets, reads his works, the words stream forth like vocalise. It is easy to become lost in the playful cadences and the catchy internal rhymes.
Those less comfortable with reading their works often stumble over words. But within the circle, everyone is on equal footing, and all works are warmly received with applause by other members.
It is the sharing of work, regardless of the varying levels of sophistication, that is important, Eddins said.
"I want the group to encourage and share," Eddins said. "It's real valuable to be able to say it out loud. Everyone has a message and every writer is growing and changing. I don't like to look at it as bad or good writing."
Although each member is allotted only 10 minutes, the rule isn't strictly enforced and the writers usually have enough time to read what they want. Those who want their work critiqued meet with others after the reading to ensure everyone a chance to read. But few members ask for critiques.
"Our voice has always been suppressed in this culture, and too often criticism has been used as a weapon," said Hureaux. "I think critiques are important for those to whom it's important."
The exchange of ideas often stimulates more creativity. Several of the writers say they have been inspired to write more since joining the group.
"It really feeds me creatively," Eddins said. "I'm now doing a play - a medium that I'm not completely comfortable with, and I'm hoping to get it produced this fall."
Having a common ethnic heritage also helps to foster a bond that encourages mutual support, Eddins said. Although some of the works deal with matters of race, most explore more universal themes.
"You get a broader spectrum of the African-American experience and everyone has something to learn and something to give," she said.
At a meeting in early June, Eddins read monologues about abortion, and one of Hureaux's poems was about the relationship between children and their parents. Other members read works about jazz singers, childhood memories, and love.
"I think people are recovering their voice, picking up where the black arts movement of the 60s left off," Hureaux said.
This fall the group hopes to put out an anthology of their works - a project inspired by a collection produced by a similar group in Portland.
The project will be partly funded through membership dues. Members of AAWA are asked to pay $10 a month, or any amount they can afford, to cover the expense of making copies of minutes and application fees and other administrative costs.
The group hopes to raise $2,500 to publish 2,000 copies of the anthology by fall. The copies would then be distributed to schools, community centers and senior centers. ----------------------------------------------------------- "TO MY FATHER" by Michael Hureaux
"What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?"
- Robert Hayden
There are so many pictures like this black and white
photograph of you, tired and off tone
the way my sisters and I remember you
that I was surprised by a home movie I came across.
You and my mother, shortly after your marriage.
You, waggling mediterranean eyebrows,
mugging for your countrygirl bride
vital laughing newlywed romantic;
when were you this other man?
When did you retreat to your threadbare reality
long afternoons sleeping in the overstuffed chair
next to the night table littered with pall mall empties and last change:
Where did you lose yourself?
Was it as a younger man
on the Roseville farmlands with their wilting heat
your family over your shoulder
reminding you of your inability to provide
and the inherent worthlessness
of a life without Je-e-e Sus?
Was it the 24 years in the Army
military life with its battle green
its dress blue
its red paranoia
its white rocks
and agent orange
was that where you lost your color?
Or maybe the Fairbanks Pioneer Home
where you cleaned the bedpans of ancients
put away and forgotten by their sons and daughters?
Or somewhere or someplace in between
other dogmas and locations without feeling
other lazy afternoons in parking lots
with nicotine on your tongue
and a broom your walking partner
I just want to know where you got off the ride. -----------------------------------------------------------
"MEMO TO PEN"
By Randee Eddins
I want to write in bold strokes
march across minds
make fluttering footprints on heart paths
create thorn sharp impressions
dangling like slipknots
in folk's throats
making them chew carefully
and feel well fed.
Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.