At the time that I joined my first consciousness raising group, I was fifteen, the youngest member of the CWLU, only two years in the United States, and a prolific journal writer, filling a hardbound notebook every three months. I’d been entranced with writing since my mother Rosario taught me the magic of the alphabet, and even more so when my first grade teacher Eleanor Jane West made a whole room of first graders understand that they were poets, but that year, 1969, I was writing for my life.
A young immigrant feminist girl, slammed up against the brutalities of day to day sexism, of the racism of Chicago streets, trying to find words of sufficient power to open a path through high school and dawning sexuality and a burgeoning activist life. Then sometime that year, one of our group returned from a trip to California and brought me a mimeographed, illustrated book of poetry by feminist writers. It was during that moment of revolt in which claiming authorship was seen as individualistic, so the poems were unsigned, with a collective list of names at the back. Now it’s easy to match Judy Grahn to the Common Woman poems, to recognize at a glance the works of Alta and Susan Griffin and Adrienne Rich, but then it was just a treasure trove of permission. And nestled within those pages of words and drawings was a new name for myself: writer.
I leftChicago for the mountains of New Hampshire, where I wrote poetry and helped run a small town women’s center and birth control counseling service. In 1976 I fled winter and whiteness and landed in Oakland, California , a hotbed of emerging women of color writers. I joined the Berkeley Women’s Center Poets, did radio with the Third World News Bureau, and in the summer of 1978 was one of several dozen underemployed women writers to work as field interviewers for Diana Russell’s groundbreaking randomized study on the incidence of rape in San Francisco.
That’s when I met Cher’rie Moraga, and after a brief attempt to start a press, and a while as writing buddies, became a contributor to This Bridge Called My Back. That launched my thirty year career of lecturing, reading and leading workshops and trainings at colleges and universities. During that time I wrote several books, contributed to dozens of anthologies, did more radio work, got a doctorate in Women’s Studies, taught, and eventually, in 2005, collapsed as the toll of multiple undiagnosed chronic illnesses, and the sheer weight of being a disabled single mother of color artist living in poverty finally brought me to my bed.
I’ve survived a stroke and a head injury since then, and am supported by my 82 year old father, with an extremely vulnerable future. Seven weeks ago two discs in my spine slid out of place. I have been in close to unbearable pain, dealing with frightening levels of medical neglect and abuse, paying for attendant care out of my own small pocket and with donations from y community. I have a lot of writing to do, essays and fiction and political theory about the place of our bodies in the task of liberation, but I can’t sit up, am struggling to eat, have lost so much muscle mass my scrawny legs won’t hold me up at all. I am thinking back to the spring of 1971, watching hand silkscreened copies of posters drying from clotheslines, declaring Sisterhood is blooming, springtime will never be the same. I’m typing these words lying on my back, doped up on narcotics, and as afraid for myself as I ever remember being, praying that this winter solidarity will bloom for me.