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Risk, Courage, and Women

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This unique collection of narratives, essays, and poems includes an original interview with Maya Angelou and pieces by Naomi Shihab Nye, Pat Mora, Rosemary Catacalos, and many others. Each work relates how women have demonstrated courage by taking a risk that has changed their lives. The Introduction explores courage not as a battlefield quality, but as the result of thoughtful choices demonstrating integrity and self-awareness. Each section opens with a description of its organization and the significance of individual pieces. Themes include sustenance for living, faith in the unknown, the courage of choice, the seams of our lives, and crossing borders. The book begins with a conversation with Dr. Maya Angelou, the embodiment of a courageous woman. She urges readers to "Envision" and concludes the book with the wish "Good morning," inviting all to join her in a new day reflecting "The Power of One." Voices of racial and ethnic diversity speak throughout the work, underscoring both difference and unity in the female experience. Including role models for university audiences and powerful reflections of life experiences for older readers, this work serves many purposes: a textbook in Literature or Women's/Gender Studies classes, a focus for book study groups, and a source for providing perspective during quiet moments. All net proceeds from book sales will go to the WINGS nonprofit organization, recipient of Oprah's Angel Network award, providing uninsured women with free breast cancer surgery, radiation, counseling, and follow-up treatments such as chemotherapy. "I wish women could see themselves free. Just see and imagine what they could do if they were free of the national and international history of diminishment. Just imagine, if we could have a Madame Curie born in the nineteenth century, suppose that twenty other women had been liberated at the same time? That's what I wish for women: See it. Try to see yourself free. What would you do?"--from "Sources of Courage: An Interview with Dr. Maya Angelou"

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Sources of Courage: An Interview with Maya Angelou

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sources of courage

An Interview with Dr. Maya Angelou

She knew poverty and racism intimately as a child in Stamps, Arkansas, hiding her “crippled Uncle Willie” under sacks of onions in a truck to escape his lynching by “The Boys.” A brutal sexual assault at age eight, with her attacker beaten to death afterwards, sent her into silence for years as she feared the power of her own words. Yet, Maya Angelou learned that words were the way to set herself free. Encouraged by “Mama,” her grandmother who knew that this voiceless child would become a great teacher, she has been awarded 56 honorary doctorates, several Golden Globe awards, and nominated for the

Pulitzer Prize for her poetry in Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ’fore I Die (1971).

She wrote graphic accounts of her young years in the award-winning I Know

Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), followed by scores of books and dramatic outpourings evidenced by her role as the first African American woman screenwriter and director in Hollywood.

Touring internationally in Porgy and Bess, she embodied pure musical tradition, crediting her success to listening to “Mama’s voice, like that of Mahalia

 

Sustenance for Living

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sustenance for living

She is born of damp mist and early sun.

She is born again woman of dawn.

She is born knowing the warm smoothness of rock.

She is born knowing her own morning strength.

“A Breeze Swept Through”

–luci tapahonso

We are reminded of the very sustenance of our being in the birth of this Navajo child, who “kicked tiny brown limbs. / Fierce movements as outside / the mist lifted as the sun is born again.” With her spirit connected to the emotional and physical world, we evidence the intricate part of the self that finds the substance to thrive. In this chapter, writers gain courage from their own “morning strength.” We begin with the elderly to show how this connectedness with life’s nourishment can span the ages.

“In February she was dying again,” begins Naomi Shihab Nye’s “One

Moment on Top of the Earth.” The grandmother hasn’t eaten in twenty days, but when she hears that “someone who loved her … flew across the sea” to see her, she wanted soup. Nye writes “being alive was wanting things again.” She was a woman who had almost died, but who “by summer was climbing the steep stairs to her roof to look out over the fields once more,” flowing into

 

Faith in the Unknown

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faith in the unknown

Daini reflected, “True faith is to follow the tiniest light in the deepest of dark, trusting that it will guide you to safety.” For some, faith is an assurance that things will work out, even during the worst of times. For others, it is a religious belief, or perhaps a spiritual awakening, that carries them through their daily encounters and experiences. While the authors in our previous chapter turned to the inner self to sustain their courage, the writers in this chapter rely on faith to light their way.

Valerie Bridgeman Davis surrounds her poem, “The Soul’s Source,” with the words of Thomas Moore: “The soul is its own source of unfolding.” Her piece is about trusting one’s instincts and developing a faith in oneself for answers.

Bridgeman Davis writes, “in your soul are answers / to questions you’ve never asked.”

Also looking within, the voice in Bárbara Renaud González’s “La Diosa” delves into her worst fears: of love, of writing, of being alive. She pleads to her

 

The Courage of Choice

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the courage of choice

Not to choose is to have already chosen.

–jean-paul sartre

As we hear from our authors’ voices, courage has a cacophony of sounds.

While not bold in its immediacy, the courage to choose a path or action may demonstrate a considered willingness to move forth despite one’s fears. Many of these authors considered their decisions carefully and over time before acting. In accepting societal responses ranging from ostracism to punishment and incarceration, our writers in this chapter choose to move forward in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

In “Fire Walk,” as an activist in the Humane movement, Amy Freeman Lee prepares to address a hostile national audience of animal laboratory scientists.

Her profound belief that it is morally, ethically, and spiritually wrong to use animals in experiments demanded that she accept the invitation. She writes, “I have never worked harder on a speech in my whole life.” It wasn’t physical danger that she was concerned about, but “the risk to the mind and spirit in the form of ridicule and false accusations.”

 

Seams of Our Lives

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seams of our lives

I am a part of all that I have met.

“Ulysses,” by alfred, lord tennyson

Far greater than the tiny seams in sewing are the invisible ones that bind parts of our lives together intricately with those of others. They also appear where different aspects of one’s own life are tied together to form a continuity of life’s cycles. The expansiveness of these pieces forms a rich tapestry.

Gail Hosking Gilberg begins this chapter with her poem, “Traveling

Words.” She created from her own ache, “language / whispered in solitude.”

Yet, “transmitted like light / on its own journey,” her words became vital in binding her to another writer.

Such threads bind not only our lives together, but can form the fragile connection between life and death. In her piece, “Jared Found,” Bert Kruger Smith initially shuts down because of her tremendous ache over the loss of her son.

Convinced that Jared is just missing, in her distressed state she says, “A sixyear-old can’t get lost forever.” This is a story where life and death are woven together, where mourning and celebration are closely connected by a jagged edge. She can develop the courage to re-connect with the love of her husband and remaining children only when she finds that, through love, Jared will always be part of her being.

 

The Real Self

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the real self

Eric Liddell, the famed Scottish missionary and runner, equated faith to running a race, reflecting that the power to see the race to its end comes from within. Indeed, our greatest potential and confidence may emerge from putting one foot forward at a time to take life’s risks. In the following essays and poems, we read of the “truth-telling” self (Muskie, 2000), the real or inner self of women that allows them to be courageous one step at a time in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

In “When I am Asked,” Valerie Bridgeman Davis delves into her reserves

“To reclaim the stolen esteem / And broken spirit of my offspring,” pouring herself into raising strong black men amidst racism and social hostility.

Bridgeman Davis knows that they are society’s future and wants her sons’ first response “to every adversity” to “be a straight back / And a stiffened will.”

Similarly, Joan Loveridge-Sanbonmatsu faces negativity in raising “warrior” sons. In her poems “Enroute From Japan” and “Two Warriors,”she writes about nurturing her sons in a world where prejudice abounds. “Prejudice, in an instant, / is perceived. / Prejudice, like the trailing jellyfish tentacle / stings like a sea wasp / injecting toxic, paralyzing threads into its victim.” LoveridgeSanbonmatsu knows, as Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, that “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment,” and creates sons “strong enough to ward off blows.”

 

Crossing Borders

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crossing borders to be nobody but yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.

—e. e. cummings

Despite Robert Frost’s admonition concerning unthinking acceptance of

“Good fences make good neighbors,” as humans we have continued to create countless borders, often assuming their necessity. Some are political, others physical or religious. This chapter deals with obliterating the personal boundaries that restrict the development of our real selves as well as those that keep us from reaching out and being part of the total community of humanity.

Camus reflected, “To know oneself, one should assert oneself.” In this chapter, the “real self ” of these authors forced them to step over social boundaries as well as those formed by a lack of understanding or empathy from others and set by the limits of their own mortality.

The initial selections deal with parents’ impact on their children and grandchildren, forging a direction for future generations. In “Ruth Marantz

 

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