Letter to a writer


There is something I have been thinking about, and wanted to share with you. In class we talked about your piece, “Good hair, bad hair – thank you Toni Morrison!”. Its not so much the piece that I have thought much about, although it was very well written, and has entered my thoughts at times. Instead, it was a phrase you used when you were talking about it: “Intended Audience.”

I work at a bookstore, and I get questions that you wouldn’t even be able to make up. There was one day, a woman came up to me and asked where we kept the black authors. I didn’t understand the question, so I asked was there a book in particular she was looking for. She replied she was looking for Jerome Dickey. So I took her to fiction, to the D’s. Thanking me, she then re-asked her original question, do you have a section of black authors? Still a little confused, I replied that we had an African – American cultural studies section, but that authors were only separated by the content of the book.

My naivety aside, the question still sits in my head. If (“when” , say “when”) I get published, I don’t think I would like to be separated out but my colour, origin, shoe size, whatever.Shouldn’t my work be above such things? Words are not linked to skin colour, why should sentences, or paragraphs be?

Which goes back to another thing we talked about in class, “What does it mean to be a Black Writer”, and I was asked if I thought of myself as a white writer. The answer I gave was awkward, and long. But this too I have thought about.

When someone creates art, there is a part of them in that work. Sometimes it can be obvious, like a Dali, or Hemingway. Other times you have too look deeper, but it is there. So, if there is a part of me in everything I make, all of my art, from poetry to web graphics, what part of me am I showing?

But a discussion of race and writing is not where I am headed. This is not to be a letter from a white boy to a black girl, but a letter from a writer to a writer. Nothing more.

These two points, the lady in the bookstore, and the discussion of being a black writer lead directly back to that phrase you used. “Intended Audience.”

What part of me, that is in my work, would exclude someone from that group? Is there something about me that inherently creates an “intended audience”?

To me, intended audience says if I am not in that group, this piece will not mean anything to me. When I read your essay, I didn’t feel to be outside of some secret group. Quite the contrary, I felt as if I were being brought into a group, learning something about someone else I would have otherwise never known.

“Intended Audience” didn’t apply to the words in that essay. But it came up in discussion.

Take this piece, for example. It can be argued that you are the only one who this letter is intended for; that you are the “intended audience.” Does that mean that no one else could read it and gain something from it?

I guess what I am saying, is don’t sell yourself short with phrases like “intended audience”, and don’t hide a damn good essay behind them either. Your words speak for themselves, don’t limit them. Don’t limit yourself, plenty others will do it for you, putting qualifiers on you; black writer, woman writer, young writer, American writer, DC writer, blah blah blah. Let them worry about that. You worry about art, your art, because that is what an artist does. Adjectives are just semantics.

And phrases like “intended audience” sound too much like justification. Something the nothing I have read of yours needs.


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