Marianne K. Martin has a lot going on. Not only does she write award winning novels (See the cover for Under the Witness Tree? That’s one of them.), she also publishes them. She is on of the founding partners of Bywater Books and she also manages the very cool Bywater Prize for Fiction.
And, because she really is that cool, she’s giving away one of her books here at Women and Words. Winner’s choice even. Woo! All you have to do to enter the drawing is tell us about finding YOUR voice in the comments section below. As always, I’ll do the drawing on Friday (4/29) and notify the winner both by email and by adding a bolded comment to the top of this post. Good Luck!
First, read her blog and enter the drawing.
by Marianne K. Martin
I would have said ‘Yes, she is my girlfriend’. I would have told John that it didn’t matter how long he hung around or how many times he called, I would never be interested. In college, I would not have lied about where I went on the weekends, or pulled my hand away from hers in public. And later, the bright young man who had brought his questions and concerns to his teacher, would have had answers that may have kept him from taking his own life.
All of that would have happened, certainly it would have, and maybe more – if I had found my voice earlier. If I had trusted it past my fears. If I had believed that I would have survived the consequences of its truth. But, I hadn’t found my voice. Hadn’t trusted what I knew, or believed in my own survival.
I believed the consequences. I feared them, because they were real. I can still hear the threats of shock treatments from the quivering commitment in my parent’s voice, and feel the sharp sting of my father’s blows. I can hear the threatening taunts of the boys following me home from school. There were stories of ‘fag’ beatings, and deaths. And, I’ll never forget the day I sat in a staff meeting, all fresh and full of hope, as it was announced that a fellow teacher was being fired because he was gay.
It’s been a struggle, a long journey to find my voice, to believe in it, to trust it and not fear it. It’s a personal struggle that we all face and deal with in our own way, in our own time. So, what has brought it all back to mind, so vivid and painful? A character, a lovely old woman in my next book, a prequel of sorts to Under the Witness Tree. Her name is Addy, and in order to explore her struggle to find her voice, I needed to revisit my own. The issues of Atlanta, Georgia in 1906 were not the same issues that challenged my own voice, but as Addy will discover, it is more than speaking out for a cause, more than trying to right a wrong – it is the speaking out, it is the voice…Well, maybe Addy should tell you about it herself.
Leda Jenkins arrived precisely when expected and graciously accepted that Emily was feeling exceptionally sad today, and unable to practice her lesson.
Addy expected no less from the ambitious young woman now sharing the parlor with her. She was articulate and bright, and seemed unusually comfortable speaking her opinion on matters generally reserved for the men’s club. There was a recognition, though, Addy had noticed, of the acceptable boundaries of discussion and, over the past year, it had been fascinating to watch her navigate those lines.
“Are we alone then?” Leda asked, with a promise in her eyes to ignore those lines if they were indeed alone.
It had never been clear to Addy how Leda had come to trust speaking her mind to her without fear of reproach. What on earth had prompted her confidence in an old woman raised up in a time of strict and clearly defined boundaries? How could she have known what had not been spoken? Or, does she know that the boundaries had been changed once years ago, when the women took the reins left loose by war, and that some hadn’t forgotten how that felt?
“We are,” Addy replied. “Mr. Benson is in town, and Anna is having dinner with a friend’s family.”
Leda nodded. Dark wisps of hair, falling free of a pinned up coif, fluttered with the air of the overhead fan. Large brown eyes locked with Addy’s. “There has been another lynching. This one in Decatur. There’s no justice to it, Miss Adelaine, no proof of any wrong doing deserving of death.” Her voice flexed with a reserved strength. “It must stop.”
“However unjust, Leda, I don’t see what we can do to stop it. How do you know who you talk to by day, doesn’t don a robe at night? You certainly know that even speaking of injustices has its own consequences.”
“But, it must start there. Don’t you see? We must talk about it. Otherwise, what does our silence say? This is not only a Negro issue, it’s a human issue. It’s not merely about justice for them, but about our right as women to speak of it.”
“And a cause, I’m afraid, for others whose principles can weather the risks. I have the girls to worry about. I’m all they have to count on now. I can not risk their care and well-being for my principles.”
Leda leaned forward, met the soft blue eyes and held them. “I know who you are, Miss Adelaine. I’ve listened to the talk, I’ve done my reading. I know who I am talking to. It was principle that saved this place, you alone standing against fear I can only imagine, facing Sherman’s men eye to eye. There is no other way this house survived, except for your tenacious defense of principle.”
“I’m not that young woman anymore. I’m old and I’m tired.”
“And you want what is best for those girls. If there was a way to make this world a better place for them, I can’t believe you wouldn’t do it.”
“Where is it that you propose we speak about it?” The tone of her words had shrugged years, and began gaining the stride of her youth. “In meetings disguised with cooking and sewing and mindless chatter? Merely speaking to each other, none of us with the voice to change a thing? Even together, Leda, we are feathers in the wind.”
“Together, you and me and every woman with a conviction of their own worth, have a voice that is stronger, and louder, and can reach the men who can make a change.”
She couldn’t deny it. Leda had stirred something in her that years of living, of managing and settling, had stilled. She saw in this woman’s eyes what her own had once shown, heard in her voice the passion that had once powered her own words. But, the years had also taught Addy the importance of the space between should and could. “There are too many men like my son-in-law who would fight hard to quiet us. There would be consequences. What of your husband? Do you jeopardize your marriage by speaking out?”
“I speak my mind at home. He has a sympathetic ear. James is a man of some compromise, but I do fear that if he is faced with standing apart from his peers, he would hesitate to support me. That’s why we must find others, willing to listen, who are fundamentally unopposed to compromise. Men like James need to be able to find common ground. We start there.” Leda grasped Addy’s hand and squeezed it. Help us search them out, Addy.”
So young, Addy thought, this woman – full of righteous conviction and hope. “Knowing that we are right,” she said, “may be our only satisfaction at the end of a day.”
“Then, we will add another day,” Leda said, with a stiffening of her posture, “and, another.”