Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Literary Relationships

“When Raylene came to me, I let her touch my shoulder, let my head tilt to lean against her, trusting her arm and her love. I was who I was going to be, someone like her, like Mama, a Boatwright woman. I wrapped my fingers in Raylene's and watched the night close in around us.” Dorothy Allison, _Bastard out of Carolina_.

Born and raised on the southern tip of the Appalachians in North Alabama, in a place called Sand Mountain, I come from a family of storytellers. Not a weekend night would go by that Daddy didn’t tell me stories after supper. Sometimes about his winning a Ford Pickup in a game of poker or skinning rattlesnakes in Florala. His voice charmed me, lifting me above tomato plants and pecan trees.

Miss Davis, my sixth-grade English teacher, told stories like I heard at home, but she also carried me new places through books--the garden of Kubla Khan and other kingdoms by the sea. When she read “Annabel Lee,” I hung on every word. She sent writers home with me: Edgar Allan Poe, Charlotte Bronte and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The romance began.

In high school I read James Dickey, Flannery O'Connor, Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams--all Southern writers grappling with what it means to live and love in a region slit by bigotry. Then I discovered Dorothy Allison, specifically _Bastard Out of Carolina_, and felt she wrote just for me.

The novel's narrator, a twelve-year-old girl called Bone, led me to a familiar world of abuse, poverty, racism and sexism where families were warm and turbulent, loving and violent. Allison's language was tough, sparse and sensual. It mixed the languid rhythms of the South with raw emotion and physical violence and portrayed a lush world of betrayal and redemption. _Bastard_ gave body and voice to Southern outcasts-lesbians, working class, and incest survivors.

Allison provided hope as she offered a way to understand my own experience of growing up in Appalachia. She taught me how to write honestly and with affection about people and places that rip us apart. She taught me that writing is an act of courage and survival.

1 comment:

Rebekah said...

Thank god for stories and books. How many of us have been saved by what we've read?

When's your novel coming out, Ms. Chella?