Yesterday I dusted off my brain and went to an annual writers’ conference at Mt. Holyoke College. It’s a fairly small local event of only about 100 people, unlike bigger venues such as the East Coast Crime Bake, which boasts speakers like Elizabeth George (remember the Inspector Lynley series?).
This year’s panels included Dynamics of Dialogue, How Science and Literature Can Play Together Without Killing Each Other, and The Writer as a Voice of Dissent. And no sweaty palms for me this year. I’ve spent past conferences shopping my current novel from agent to agent, but I’m writing at glacier speed lately, so I just sat back and enjoyed the day.
In the session on historical fiction, Gone With the Wind came up. Apparently it’s regaining notoriety in some circles that believe it glorifies slavery, and is basically a white supremacist tract, an issue that's really picked up speed lately.
It seems a shame we can’t appreciate the story while being aware of the cultural time in which it was written. This also reminded me of the perennial controversy in public schools over whether to teach Huckleberry Finn, based on Twain’s handling of the slave Jim.
At my first conference, the most magical part of it for me was being in a group of people that sat around and talked about words. Yesterday afternoon was no exception.
Breena Clarke, whose debut novel River, Cross My Heart was an Oprah Book Club selection, was the afternoon’s keynote speaker. Her most recent work is set in an imagined 19th century mixed-race community. She offered for our consideration the word “sassy.”
For her, as a woman of color, she saw negative connotations – such as a person stepping out of a role assigned to her by society.
The majority of conference participants were white women, and I think we saw a different connotation, one of a woman with spirit and disregard for conventions.
And finally, could the word ever be used to describe a man?