Beloved poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the words below in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xavier Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters were first published in 1929 and later, in 1984, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell. Published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, they are among the most beloved letters of all time.
On this International Women’s Day, and in light of my novel’s themes of female empowerment at a time, the late 1960s, when modern-day “Women’s Lib” was first hitting its stride, it seems fitting to share Rilke’s early twentieth century perspective on women’s potential:
“Love trumps hate,” the protesters’ signs say. But sadly, fear closes hearts and ignorance breeds contempt.
America is a nation grown rich from its diversity, its wealth of variations in cultures, religions, lifestyles, viewpoints and beliefs. That is our strength. It’s who we are. And as we grow more so over time, we should be eagerly opening up and building bridges to understanding, nurturing community–not building walls and closing doors. Hate won’t make us great. It will make us lose our soul.
In such challenging, even chaotic times, these words of Robert Kennedy are good to keep in mind:
I am reminded that Robert Kennedy was assassinated, like his brother, President John F. Kennedy before him, in his prime. I felt deep respect–in fact, love–for these two men. They inspired me as a young person to open my heart and mind to “meet” all people with an expectation of commonality beneath differences and belief in a wondrous possibility of shared gifts. The deep sadness I felt at their loss still lingers. I was in high school when the world lost JFK, and it was the tumultuous year of 1968 when, at the Democratic Convention, RFK was shot and killed.
My novel, The Flying Girl, begins in 1968, a time so much like now. No wonder these words of Robert Kennedy ring as true today as then.
Just like during the Sixties, when my novel, The Flying Girl, takes place, we Americans must be well-informed–with facts, not propaganda–if we are to navigate through the turbulent times we face. America’s greatness today, as in the past, must come from the wisdom and strength of a citizenry guided by truth, not led astray by false idols and promises. So let’s all take the advice of that sage character of British television fame, Dr. Who, and arm ourselves with knowledge. Read!
The wise words below are those of distinguished author Ursula K Le Guin, from her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards two years ago, when she was honored for her lifetime achievement. I think they are worth reading again, now.
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.” —Ursula K. Le Guin
Note: See/hear the full speech, live on video, (posted on my blog Nov 24, 2014).
A woman’s life isn’t all sugar and sweetness. It’s full of challenges, losses, and, yes, heartache. It’s the journey that strengthens, and the survivor that wins.
Flying girls soar! They swim, too, and accomplish amazing feats–particularly when they come in the embodied spirit of Diana Nyad, who four times attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage and finally, at age 64, succeeded on her fifth try! I find her words upon finishing her fourth failed attempt inspiring. She tells us to persevere in our dreams, to never give up. So on this International Woman’s Day and ever after, keep flapping those wings, women of the world, and let’s rise up together!
In her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards a few days ago, when she was honored for her life’s work, science-fiction author, Ursula K. Le Guin, demonstrated once again her ability to view the world as a visionary, this time turning her perceptual acuity to the evolving world of authors, publishers, and booksellers.
I have no doubt her powerful words rang loudly in the scholastic halls of fine arts programs, rattled the shelves of bookstores everywhere, and embraced the weary shoulders of writers working endless hours on their creations. Hopefully they also struck lightening in the minds of those who put profit over art and seek to diminish the value of writers and their work.
If you missed her short but oh-so-sweet speech, hear it below:
Ms. Le Guin is one of those rare, intuitive individuals who sees not only between the current lines—in this case, Amazon and those publishers who devalue authors’ work and challenge libraries’ worth—but far beyond to pages on which the literary world’s story is yet to be written. Not only did Ms. Le Guin boldly call out capitalism’s corruption of art, but she voiced a prescient warning that should be heeded if the value of American literature—not just to writers and readers but to our culture’s health—is not to be denigrated or lost.
It has been gratifying to see her words recognized and repeated. We owe her a boatload of gratitude, but now need to take up the cause lest it be forgotten or is defeated by apathy due to assuming “others” are doing the job.
In Ms. Le Guin’s words:
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”
To my literary colleagues: We are writers, and our written words can be powerful actions to push against the forces she warns of. Everyone, let your voices be heard!
Some of us choose to tell (or read) the stories between the lines, where the truth lives, without pretense and uncensored. Maya Angelou was such a writer. She was such a woman. For Angelou, there was no shame in having been a victim, no weakness in having to struggle to survive and find her way to a quality of womanhood perhaps only arrived at when the dues of wounding and injustice are paid. She didn’t hesitate to say the journey wasn’t easy, but with singular grace and courage, she rose above the abuse and humiliation she suffered to affirm her dignity as a woman. And did she ever! Continue reading
These inspiring quotes speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, and will come back to savor them again and again.
Many thanks to WritingForYourWealth.com for compiling and presenting them so beautifully.