Born to Write


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By Javacia Harris Bowser

Lucy Jaffe was perhaps born to write, but it took her decades to realize that.

“I had always been a big reader and was a visual artist. All arts are a form of communication and I was happy using the nonverbal medium of painting, except for the times I needed to translate the work and my thoughts into words. I knew I needed to work on it,” Jaffe says. “I also read that those who love to read often have a buried desire to write. It wasn’t so much that I recognized that desire in myself, but it offered an interesting challenge and so I began to write about what was important to me.”

It was when she moved to Birmingham in 1997 that she started putting her thoughts to paper.

“I was struck by the generous spirit of storytelling and sharing here,” she says.

And in 2006 Jaffe decided to create a space to further cultivate that spirit, especially among women. She founded Women Writing Birmingham, which offers writing classes and community to local women who write. Jaffe started Women Writing Birmingham after becoming licensed and certified through Women Writing for (a) Change in Cincinnati, OH, which was founded in 1991 by Mary Pierce Brosmer. More than 10 years later, the community she created is still growing strong.

What inspired you to start Women Writing Birmingham? What’s your mission?

Having lived in Birmingham and other parts of the conservative South for many years, I knew women weren’t always encouraged to take part in all conversations. I felt there was a need for a place that invited women to share their stories and truths. As far as receiving others’ writings and words, I think we are hungry to hear how other women experience life.

I am passionate about writing and the ways it enlarges my life and want to share that. Every time I sit down to write, I am excited to put words together, jumping into the places my fingers and brain take me.

I believe that we are all born creative beings and that our culture doesn’t support that as well as it could. I try to provide an experience where women are expected to explore and develop their voices. Sharing their words and thoughts is empowering. That empowerment changes lives for the good.

What is a typical class like?

The energy and time in class is spent writing, sharing, getting and giving feedback. The small class size lends to intimacy and community building. I use contemporary poetry and quotes to introduce topics which we briefly discuss and use as jumping off points into writing. Some want ideas and some want to work on their own projects or expand their journaling practice. We keep each other’s writing, words, and projects confidential.

We are serious, but also have fun. I can ask everyone to name something they had to do to get to class and we’ll get a variety of stories, likely ones they didn’t know they had carried in. We write about the whole of our lives from birth to death in poems, fiction, memoir, essay or anything one can conceive.

What is the change you would like to see in Birmingham and beyond? 

There are so many great things going on in Birmingham these days. I would like everyone to feel connected to community and that they are engaged as creatively in their lives as they would like to be.

Do you consider writing to be a form of activism? 

I do consider writing a form of activism. It is extended in sharing writing and using our voices to do so. Saying it out loud, getting feedback, developing and discussing your work is empowering. These experiences lead to consciously crafting the kind of life you envision.

Writing your truths in your journal is certainly a form of activism. You can write letters and be an activist. 

We have some books that have been written or are being written. Some women have started leading professional lives that are more connected to their writing lives. Some are expressing themselves at spoken word events or taking advantage of other opportunities to speak or write their views.

What type of writing have you pursued over the course of your career? 

I’ve explored poetry, personal essay, memoir, and fiction along the writing path. If I could carry a tune, I’d write songs! Women Writing Birmingham could use a good jingle. 

Learn more about Women Writing Birmingham at womenwritingbham.com

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