City Paper is not for tourists
In I Have Arrived Before My Words: Autobiographical Writings of Homeless Women, text provides a balm to women who have fallen through the social safety net. Five homeless women (Gayle, Ann, Georgia, Dionne, and Angie), and their two instructors (Deborah Pugh and Jeanie Tietjen), wrote the collection of memoir-style essays during WritersCorps workshops at D.C. homeless facilities (and one prison). Although the cause of the women’s homelessness differedGayle and Dionne’s drug addiction, Ann’s mental illness, Georgia’s unemployment, Angie’s physical disabilityeach testimony bears witness that, as Tietjen says, “All of us have seen what the world seems to call ‘loss of control.’” When confronting past hard living, the self-analysis involved sometimes freed the writers to act in the present. She continues, “It’s definitely putting down words and letting the words take you to a place that you thought had stopped moving you.” While Dionne is in prison and Ann is still homeless, the remaining three writers have found homes and are working on new writing projects.
Gayle, Georgia, and Angie, as well as Tietjen, Pugh, and their publisher, Lynn Whittaker of Alexandria’s Charles River Press, introduced themselves and their book at Chapters Dec. 12. Georgia, a stout, middle-aged African-American woman, charmed the crowd with her Louisiana drawl and wide-eyed commentary: “Somebody said you had to be a little off in the head to write, and since I had been leaning all my life…” The essays do not feature greeting the day without steady shelter, but rather the homes each writer has known, the places she’s going, and the thrill of writing her voice despite being part of a group that is often heard ranting, or kept silent. Georgia remembered putting her first words down “on the back of some kind of a box. I tore it open. There was no paper in the house. My teacher had said, ‘Write something.’ And then I took it to school, and she gave me a piece of paper and she said, ‘Now put this on there.’ And she goes, ‘You’re gonna do all right one of these days’….You have to get out the best you can, your way, so that’s what I was. That started me.” These women wrote themselves out of wandering into a room of their own.Ginger Eckert
Next reading at 5 p.m. Jan. 12 at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. (202) 364-1919.