The Book That Needed to be Written

Elizabeth di Grazia

Elizabeth di Grazia

House of Fire,is a book that needed to be written. I was the one to write it. I didn’t ask for sexual abuse to happen to me. I didn’t ask to get pregnant from brothers. But, I did. Who else could write this book but me? Who else to tell the story of how I came out of the hell that I lived as a teenager? Who else to tell the story of how I created a loving family? Who else to say to others who have gone through similar hells that they, too, can survive and have a good life? Who else to tell them that trauma doesn’t need to define them, that they are bigger than their stories?

The fact is many of us could have written this book. The next time you see a group of children, consider this: 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are a victim of sexual abuse. When a child is raped, 46 percent of the time, the perpetrator is a family member, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. Those statistics suggest many stories. I hope to open a dialogue to change those statistics – and innocent lives – for the better.

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr.

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr.

House of Fire took me over twenty years to write. It took a lot longer than that for ink to meet paper. But, it did. I tried many forms to tell this story: poetry, fiction, and essays. I kept coming back to nonfiction. This story did happen. This story happened to me.

Healing takes time and work. When the day arrived that House of Fire was to be published, I was ready to stand at the podium as a statement that people can and do survive trauma and their dreams can come true. When you look at me, you won’t see the sexual abuse, the pregnancies, or the trauma. I don’t wear my past as a tattoo. You’ll see me in my allness. My smile, my kindness, my gentleness, and my happiness. You’ll see the peace that I have found.

House of Fire is not a tale of woe. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but most of all you will be left with hopefulness.

I invite you join me on September 30th for a powerful night of stories and to celebrate the publication of House of Fire. Sharing the platform with me is a range of successful artists. When I first talked with Sherrie Fernandez-Williams, program director, of the Loft Literary Center she suggested I curate an event to celebrate my publication. I chose the title, Finding Your Bones. Sometimes the only thing of substance left after trauma is you, the bones of who you are. The artists who will be with me have in their own right found their bones and their stories. Wine and appetizers will follow the event.

Keno Evol

Keno Evol

Below are the artists’ bios:

An active force in the Twin Cities artistic community, R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. has received numerous literary awards and fellowships for his writing and live performances. The current and reigning IWPS Indigenous SLAM champion, he has performed spoken word all over the country, and parts unknown. A Nu’Eta enrolled citizen of the Three Affiliated Tribes located on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Vincent was raised in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis in the long long ago in the before time.

Poet, essayist and activist Keno Evol is a six year educator having taught at nineteen institutions across the state of Minnesota. He has served as the chair of the Youth Advisory Board for TruArtSpeaks. A nonprofit in St Paul, dedicating to cultivating literacy, leadership and social justice through Hip Hop.

Evol has received numerous grants and competed nationally as a spoken word artist. Evol has been published in Poetry Behind The Walls and on platforms such as Gazillion Voices Magazine , Black Girl In Om, and TC Organizer.

Christine Stark

Christine Stark

Evol has performed, taught workshops and led professional development in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Washington DC, Arkansas, Minnesota and New York. He has gone on to teach Spoken Word poetry in high schools such as Washburn High, Brooklyn Center High, MNIC High, PYC, Paladin Academy, Creative Arts and John Glenn Middle School.

He has appeared on TPT and Urban Perspectives. He navigates noting Patricia Hill Collins as she has stated “My work has always been bigger than my job.”

Writer, visual artist, and organizer, Christine Stark’s first novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Her writing has appeared in periodicals and books, including Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prize-Winning Essays; When We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience; The Florida Review, and many others. A Loft Mentor Series winner, Stark is currently completing her second novel and conducting research for a nonfiction book.

I hope you’ll join us for an evening of powerful truth-telling.

September 30, 2016 at the Loft Literary Center, 1011 Washington Ave. S, Minneapolis

Fractured Heart

African VioletsI woke in the night with a deep sadness and an image that was slowly fading.

Leaning down, I had kissed my grandma. She was sitting on the chair that she always sat on in her kitchen, the one on the left when you came into the room. This seat gave her the best vantage point to greet people, and the large window overlooked her patio and into the neighbor’s back yard. Purple, white, and pink African violets lined her windowsill.

My grandmother and I were close. I stayed with her while I was going to college, roaring my 650 Honda motorcycle up onto her brownstone patio. After parking, I bounded in her house and up the three steps to her kitchen. I slept with her when she was confused to give her comfort and to make sure she didn’t wander away. One afternoon she told me that I should call my mother, see my family. I told her she wouldn’t say that if she knew the truth. She didn’t bring it up again.

I was at her side when she died. Holding her hand, telling her it was okay for her to go. Being with her while she was dying was a gift she gave me. It was me who called my mother and told her that grandma was gone. My mother had left hours earlier after telling me to call her when her mother had passed. Same as I told my siblings when our mother was dying.

I recognized that the deep sadness I woke with comes from not having close ties to familial people. There were a number of aunts and uncles I had felt close to growing up. That is gone. Some, through death. Some by my choice to not remain close.

Since House of Fire has been published, I’ve been unfriended on Facebook by all of my siblings. I have watched them drop away one by one.

I have no regrets. As a writer, if you really want to write about what’s important, meaningful, and to be a change in the world, you have to write what is yours to write. Mine has been to write the unspoken.

I had to be true to myself and to the parts of me that has lived the unspeakable.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t sadness and a sense of great loss. That is just as real as the telling.

 

Treasure Hunt

Periodically, a writers’ group I belong to has a writers’ retreat. This weekend we stayed at The Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The Anderson House in February 2015

It’s an inspiring place—a stately old home set on acres of land with a sculpture garden on the grounds. There’s a sunny library filled with novels, volumes of poetry, memoirs, histories, and art books. Many were written and contributed by the Center’s guests. In each of the bedrooms, there are journals in which previous visitors (including some well-known writers) commented on their stay. Often they mentioned a breakthrough and expressed gratitude for the Great Things they accomplished . . . which was a bit intimidating.

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Contemplative view from my window, minus the other treasure hunter

On Saturday morning, I sat at my desk and stared out the window.

Outside, a young guy in a hoodie and camo pants moved among the trees, sweeping a metal detector across the lawn. He squatted, dug up something with a trowel, then repacked the dirt, and smoothed it out.

What could he possibly have found—a bottle cap? A quarter? The Anderson House is nearly 100 years old. Maybe a long buried artifact had worked its way to the surface.

Inside, I too was treasure hunting. I sifted through files, piles of words, scraps of images, mining my mind for a memory or a line to spark inspiration.

We both worked doggedly at our tasks.

I hoped to uncover an idea that would justify my presence there, so I’d feel worthy of the gift of time.

Quickly I covered up that wasps’ nest of self-doubt and tamped down my frustration. Smoothed over my prickly worries. Don’t be so driven. That’s not how inspiration works.

I reminded myself: Just spend the time. Do the work.

It will come.

Secrets of a Successful Writers’ Group

Several years ago, Lisa, our writing group’s founder, tried to quit. She feared the realities of her treatment for stomach cancer (belching, gas, occasional gagging, and a backpack of liquid food that connected to a port in her stomach) were off-putting. She was also discouraged, because “she wasn’t contributing anything,” meaning that she didn’t have any writing to share with the group.

WordSisters

The WordSisters a few years ago — Brenda, Jill, Elizabeth, Ellen, Lisa, and Jean. Rose is behind the camera.

The other five members of the group listened, but as she talked, it was clear that thinking about writing gave her a break from thinking about her health, and she still enjoyed our company. One member suggested that we could all chime in with our own bodily noises if it would make Lisa feel more comfortable. We swiped away tears and laughed ourselves silly at that suggestion. Lisa agreed to stay involved in the group.

We support each other as writers.

That moment exemplifies the basic philosophy of our creative nonfiction writers’ group and why we’ve been together for 13 years: we meet to support each other as writers. Sometimes that goes beyond reacting to each other’s writing.

Besides giving each other feedback about writing projects, we also provide moral and tactical support:

  • Celebrating our publishing victories and sympathizing when someone’s work is rejected.
  • Sharing our grant proposals and writing award applications, even when we’re competing for the same grants and awards.
  • Offering support when a member’s personal life is trying.
  • Organizing our own writers’ retreats.
  • Launching a campaign to get Lisa published when she didn’t have the energy for submissions.
  • Attending each other’s public readings.
  • Organizing several extra-long review sessions to provide feedback on book manuscripts.
  • Recommending marketing and promotional ideas, most recently for Elizabeth’s House of Fire book launch.

Most of all, we believe in each other.

Announcing the Publication of House of Fire – an Inspiring Memoir by Elizabeth di Grazia

“In it together—from inspiration to publication” is the WordSisters theme, and today I want to congratulate Elizabeth on the publication of her memoir, House of Fire (North Star Press, 2016).

Layout 1House of Fire is the realization of a writing dream begun 13 years ago when Elizabeth entered the MFA program at Hamline University. The book is also the culmination of a personal journey that began when she was a little girl growing up on a farm in Western Wisconsin.

From the time she was 4 until she moved away from her family of origin at 19, she was sexually abused. Incest caused two pregnancies, which resulted in one abortion and one adoption. Although the memoir documents those soul-sapping experiences, the book focuses on healing and the transformative experience of creating a healthy family. DSC07148

The path to parenthood was bumpy sometimes, but Elizabeth and her partner Jody were determined and persistent. In 2003, they adopted two infants from Guatemala. Today, their created family is happy and healthy—wonderful in itself—and also a testament to people’s incredible capacity to heal and move from pain and loss to joy. Elizabeth would be quick to tell you that sexual abuse doesn’t have to define a person. She is surviving and thriving.

Although it springs from harsh realities, House of Fire is joyful and inspiring. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook.