Something to Declare is a collection of essays that are responses to questions Alvarez has been asked by readers over the years. She addresses her family’s involvement in the attempted overthrow of Trujillo, balancing being both Dominican and American, the writing of many of her novels, and her journey as a woman and writer. I always love reading Alvarez’s work, so this was fascinating and inspiring for me. I have been collecting writing advice for myself and my students, and I marked many passages as I was reading. In one case, Alvarez challenges what I was told by a favorite professor who always told us to write what we know. For Alvarez, writing is an exploration of what we don’t know and a way of figuring out what we need to know. She also acknowledges that our lives will always show up in our writing and that writers should never censor themselves out of fear of how those close to them will react.
“One of my theories, which may sound defensive and self-serving, is that there is no such thing as straight-up fiction. There are just levels of distance from our own life experience, the thing that drives us to write in the first place. In spite of our caution and precaution, bits of our lives will get into what we write. . . . I think that if you start censoring yourself as a novelist–this is out of bounds, that is sacrosanct–you will never write anything. My advice is to write it out, and then decide, by whatever process seems fair to you–three-o’clock-in-the-morning insomniac angst sessions with your soul, or a phone call with your best friend, or a long talk with your sister–what you’re going to do about it.”
What holds me back is worry over how those close to me will react. Reading Something to Declare has given me a bit more courage. I can write. I need to write, but what I do with what I’ve written is entirely up to me. I’m under no obligation to share everything, but if I keep all my ideas inside because of fear, I’ll never know what kind of writer I could be.
I highly recommend this for anyone who is or wants to be a writer or is a teacher of writing.
And now for more bookshelves!
I can skip shelf #3 because I’ve read everything on it. Margaret Atwood has always been among my favorite authors, so no one who knows me should be shocked by this.
Selecting a book from shelf #4 is easy because I don’t have much to choose from. I’m going to read The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution by Mariano Azuela because I need a break from nonfiction, and the only other book on this shelf I haven’t read is Margaret Atwood: The Essential Guide. I know very little about the Mexican revolution, and from what I’ve read, The Underdogs is required reading in Mexican schools. I’m looking forward to getting started.