New York Times Bestselling Author Sue Monk Kidd once said, “Stories have to be told or they die and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Another author, Robin Moore suggested that everyone is a natural-born storyteller simply waiting to be released.
Everyone has a story to be told. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about storytelling is that everyone’s story is unique depending on their circumstances. Things such as one’s gender, religion, race, sexuality, political affiliation or socioeconomic status all influence one’s story.
There are personal benefits to sharing your story. As Kidd suggested, storytelling provides the opportunity for the storyteller themselves to be reminded of who they are, what they have been through and help establish purpose in their lives while doing so.
However, storytelling also provides an opportunity for others to learn and grow. Take into consideration the protests that broke out in the U.S. in May 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. The world watched as supporters of Black Lives Matter (BLM) gathered in the streets throughout the country demanding justice. While for some people the problem was very clear, there were others that had—and continue to have—a difficult time understanding the injustices Black people encounter in the U.S.
The reality is that there is a large population in the U.S. that cannot relate to the stereotypes or struggles that the Black community faces simply because they are not Black. In the aftermath of Floyd’s murder, many who did not understand police brutality against unarmed Black men were encouraged to read stories, study history or listen to the voices of the Black community to try to sympathize.
This method of learning can be used for all intersectionalities, cultures and histories. One of the most effective ways to learn about someone else’s experiences is to listen to their stories, which is why it is so important for everyone to share their story.
Sharing a story does not always mean writing an autobiography and sharing it with the world, they can be shared in forms of poetry, songwriting, journalism or novels. The catch however is that there must be diversity in who is telling stories.
Writers of all forms act as gatekeepers, whether it be novelistic literature or journalism, writers have the power to determine which stories get told, thus which stories get heard, making it imperative that everyone has a voice and the opportunity to share their story.
Carefully analyzing which stories you may be reading or listening to is imperative. For instance, if you wanted to learn about what a woman’s experience working in tech companies is like compared to what a man’s experience is, you would want to seek out stories spoken directly from women.
Maybe take a moment to think about what you’re reading, whether it be a novel you recently read, or who writes the articles you read in the newspaper. An infographic organized by Wordery laid out very clearly some of the most popular books voted for in the U.S. Notable books included “1984” by George Orwell, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. While this is just four of America’s most popular fiction books, the complete list revealed that over 80% of the 100 most popular novels were written by male authors, majority of which were white.
Of course, the goal is not to encourage readers to stop reading these classic novels, but take into consideration the population of the U.S. where 50.52% identify as females, meaning that the number of females actually outnumber males in America by 3.43 million. Despite the population difference amongst genders, a recent look at gender disparity in literature revealed that male writers remain over-represented.
It is extremely problematic that men continue to act as gatekeepers throughout all forms of literature. There are many stories not being authentically told when the majority of people receiving recognition and publication opportunities are cisgender white men. History can become warped, rituals from various cultures become altered and experiences of other genders and races simply do not get heard. Most concerningly, it makes it nearly impossible for someone to learn something new if all of their reading sources are written by the same demographic.
Intentionality is one of the easiest solutions to promote diversity and inclusion in literature. Consider purchasing a book written by an author of different intersectionalities than what you may normally read. Maybe you select a novel written by a woman, but remember that there are other identities that make up a person. There is always room to learn, and there is only knowledge to be gained by reading literature from various intersectionalities.
Beyond your personal reading, there are organizations you may want to consider supporting that seek to lessen the gap in gender disparity within literature. Hedgebrook, is one local literary nonprofit that offers writing residencies, Radical Craft Retreats and salons at their location on Whidbey Island. Hedgebrook may have a physical location on Whidbey Island, but they are a global community of women writers whose mission is to support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas have the potential to shape culture now and in the future.
Hedgebrook’s community of women writers has been a voice to help raise awareness for various social issues that affect not only the U.S., but the globe. From issues like the rights of incarcerated women prisoners and inner-city violence in America to issues such as women’s rights in the Middle East and the spread of AIDS in Africa, Hedgebrook’s mission of “Radical Hospitality” enables women to find tell their story, no matter how dark, scary or challenging it may be.
“The impact of this gift is manifold: everyone who encounters this writer and her work is a recipient of her experience—of being recognized and valued for her work,” according to Hedgebrook’s mission statement.
Their community gives back by providing stories of diversity that anyone can learn from. Nearly two-thirds of Hedgebrooks’s alumnae are women of color from all over the world that have experienced many different walks of life. The global community that has been developed provides stories from women of different cultures, nationalities, voices, generations, religious beliefs and political affiliations.
Soon anyone will be able to find the works of Hedgebrook’s alumnae on their “Engaged Alumane” section of the website. However, you can find recent novels published by Hedgebrook alumnae on their Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Beyond reading the novels published by alumnae, consider donating financially if you believe that women’s voices can make a difference. For those interested in volunteering with Hedgebrook, contact the office at [email protected].
Most importantly, if you are a woman, may you know that you have a voice that is worthy of being heard. Hedgebrook has several events coming up, including a songwriting festival June 13 and a Radical Craft Retreat July 20-24. Their calendar of events can be found here, and newcomers are always welcome.
Renowned author Carolyn See famously said, “Every word a woman writes changes the story of the world and revises the official version.”
The reality is that the world needs changing and the “official version” could use some revising. May all women feel empowered and know that their stories and voices have the potential to bring the change the world so desperately needs.