Just Write

I’d like you to meet Pat Schneider.

I am fortunate to have experienced the wonderful and intrepid Pat Schneider, founder of Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) . . . both in her books and in writing workshops.

Pat was born in 1934, lived in tenement housing with her brother and single mother where there was seldom food in the cupboards, let alone on the table. When she was ten, Pat and her brother went to live in an orphanage. Those early experiences deeply influenced her writing, and fueled her passion for those who have been denied voice through poverty and other misfortunes. Through the help of a caring teacher, Pat was awarded a scholarship and was able to attend college, where she met her future husband. And so a life of writing began for this remarkable woman who lives and loves passionately.

Here’s a story about Pat, from her website:

I was a young poet, published in a few small journals, but I didn’t yet have a book of poems, when another poet in my neighborhood who did have a book, suggested we exchange poems and give each other critical suggestions. I was flattered – after all, she was a published poet! We exchanged poems, wrote our comments on the pages, and when I read her comments, I was devastated. My poor pages were bleeding red ink! So many criticisms! So little that was affirmed! For several days I felt sick – thinking I knew I shouldn’t have given her my poems! I’m not a good poet! I’m so embarrassed! and on, and on.

But after a few days, one of her comments bothered me. “Mama,”she said, “is a childish word for ‘mother.’ Change to ‘mother.’”

The poem began like this:

Mama

Mama knew a family in the Ozarks
named their baby “Vaseline Malaria”
because the words were pretty.

I could just imagine my very dignified big-city poet friend’s reaction to that. But changing the name to “Mother” and putting “who” before “named” so it would work with “mother” — would make it an entirely different poem. The problem for my friend was the voice. And then I saw that almost every one of her comments were aimed at changing my voice into her voice.

I don’t speak with an Ozark dialect now (except for a few words that I choose not to alter). I don’t write all the time using Ozark rhythms. But writing about my mama or my grandma – even writing about my own childhood frequently requires Ozark speech. Like this one, written in response to that experience:

WHAT I WANT TO SAY

Well, I was playing, see,
in the shadow of the tabernacle.
I was decorating mud pies
with little brown balls
I found scattered on the ground
like nuts, or berries.
Until some big boy came walking by
and laughed. “Hey,
don’t you know you’re puttin’ goat doo
on your mud pies? I bet
you’re gonna eat ‘em, too!”

That day I made a major error
in my creative life.

What I want to say is this:
I liked those little balls
on my mud pies. I was a sculptor,
an artist, an architect. I was
making pure design in space and time.
But I quit
because a critic came along
and called it shit.

Click here to read more about what Pat Schneider wants to say.

In this interview with Cary Tennis, Pat shares some of her deepest passions.  If you want inspiration for writing, watch Pat in her most sincere conversation about her passion for writing.

Writing Alone and With Others, a film about Pat Schneider and the writing process.

House-Pat-was-born-in

The house Pat Schneider was born in the year 1934.

 

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