Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Magic Realism on the North American Continent

Today is the birthday of Gloria Naylor. I discovered Gloria Naylor shortly before Oprah Winfrey made sure that we all knew about her, with her filming of The Women of Brewster Place. About a year before that miniseries, I was in the public library and picked up Mama Day, knowing nothing about the book and nothing about Gloria Naylor.

If I had come to Gloria Naylor through one of her other books, would I have been as big a fan? Probably not, although I certainly understand why people prefer those other books. But Mama Day stunned me, with its depiction of an island off the coast of the southeast U.S. It seemed so perfect and complete. I suspended my disbelief even with the elements of magic realism, that ability to read and control the natural world. Later, we read the book for a grad school class, and again, I was just blown away.

Of course, the problem with grad school is that students study the great literature, which can be intimidating to those of us who want to be writers in addition to being writers. I will always be grateful for the deep understanding of literature that grad school gave me, and for the teaching jobs my degrees enabled me to have, but as a writer, it's taken me some time to recover from grad school. It's taken me a long time to feel worthy of working in this great tradition of literature written in English, especially when I spent my formative years studying the great works of such towering talents.

Once upon a time, I wanted to write just like Gloria Naylor, but her world is not my world, her stories not my stories. I remember a friend of mine from long ago, who patiently endured all my breathless love of various writers. When I would say, "I want to write just like __________!", she would say "Why don't you write just like Kristin Berkey?" And happily, through the years, I have learned to do just that.

1 comment:

Dave said...

That's good advice.

I loved Mama Day too, but, strangely, never sought out any of her other works. Too busy reading poetry and nonfiction, I guess.