Monday, December 20, 2010
Persnickety Penman: Where're you'all from?
I was fortunate to have had Dr. Drake as my professor of creative writing for two classes when I attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in the early 1970s. One of the corrections he made to my thinking had to do with roots and what we think of as home.
In the first class we were given the assignment to write about ourselves so that Dr. Drake could get to know his students a little better. This was to be a brief autobiography that included where we were from. My story was the example that he always looked for to teach one of the first lessons about being a writer.
Since I had moved around a lot in my life I wrote that I wasn't really from anywhere. My hippie philosophy at that time tended more toward existentialism. I tried to portray myself as the rootless wanderer in life who was searching for self and purpose. That was the cue for Dr. Drake's lecture on roots.
"Everybody's from somewhere," he enunciated in his rich southern accent. He went on to give examples of writers like his favorite, Flannery O'Connor, who was from Georgia. Writing, he explained, is an extension of who we are and an expression of our experiences and our heritage, all of which has roots in particular place and time.
It was in that class that I began to appreciate my Tennessee home. Even though I hadn't been born there and hadn't grown up there, it was the place the felt most like home and the place with which I could most identify myself.
When we think about writers, we frequently associate them with place. With Hemingway it might be Key West or Steinbeck is central California coast. Many of us think about Hannibal, Missouri when we think of Mark Twain even though he did most of his writing elsewhere--but it was that place that shaped and influenced much of who he was and what he wrote.
As Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz was to find out in her fantastical visit, there's no place like home. A writer can take us anywhere imagination can contrive, but the story has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is inside of each of us.
Where are you from? What do you consider to be home? How does it influence your writing?
Posted by Arlee Bird at 2:00 AM
Labels: Flannery O'Connor, Robert Drake University of Tennessee professor of English, Robert Young Drake