Saturday, March 06, 2010

Writing Women Back Into History

Ladies and gentlemen, March is Women’s History Month.  This March, 2010, also happens to be the 30th anniversary of the National Women’s History Project.  Every year since its founding, the NWHP has proposed a theme for Women’s History Month, and this year’s theme has special meaning to me, since it is “Writing Women Back Into History.” The NWHP website ( says that they chose this theme because “the history of women often seems to be written with invisible ink. Even when recognized in their own times, women are often not included in the history books.”

Women’s lives - and I mean the real, everyday, down and dirty business of women’s lives, past and present - aren’t included that often in fiction, either.  A traditional woman’s life has historically not been seen as very glamorous, or held much interest for those who didn’t have to, or choose to, live it. 

I include myself in this assessment, for much of my life, anyway.  All the books and stories I had written before my Alafair Tucker series had to do with unmarried, childless, professional people, both women and men.  They were often scientists, always intellectuals, mostly messed up, directionless, and unhappy.

After all, I came of age in the 1960s, and like most people, my values were formed in my youth.  I was very into the revolution.  Toni Morrison’s father told her that “once you know a man’s race, you know nothing about him at all.”  It’s the same with women.  Once you know a person is a woman, you don’t know anything about her interests, needs, talents, or desires.  Not every woman is suited to motherhood and homemaking, and thank goodness we have choices, now.

But maybe we old revolutionaries had a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water.

When I reached a certain age, one where you begin to realize that nothing is as black and white as you thought when you were young and knew everything, it began to dawn on me that perhaps by so totally rejecting the qualities that have always been associated with women, I was somehow buying in to the idea that there was something inherently inferior about them - that anything that appeals to women can’t be that important.

When I think about my foremothers, and what they had to put up with, and how they managed in spite of the restraints put upon them - was there anything inferior about them?  Were their lives and interests somehow less important that a man’s?  I think not!

That is like saying that love and family don’t matter.  But of course they do.  Love and family matter to Alafair indeed.  She doesn’t think for a minute that being loving makes you weak.  It makes you tough as nails.  It gives you teeth and claws.  It makes you dangerous.

And maybe intellect isn’t the highest form of knowing.  Maybe intuition is the keenest observational sense of all.  At least Alafair doesn’t have the slightest doubt that this is so.

The character of Alafair is an homage.  She’s a composite of my mother, my mother-in-law, and my grandmothers, and believe me, there was nothing weak or sentimental about any of them.  No matter how constrained they may have been by the mores of their times, they knew what was important, they saw what needed to be done, and they found a way to do it.

Speaking of my Alafair Tucker series, I learned last week that my fourth Alafair mystery, The Sky Took Him, is one of the five finalists for the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award in the Fiction category.  This is the third Alafair book to be named as a finalist for this particular award, though I haven't yet won.  I expect that the books have been so honored because the Oklahoma setting is so important to these stories.  I am really grateful.  And perhaps third time will be a charm! (Wouldn't it be something if a mystery novel won in the fiction category?)


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