Dorothy Allison: “There is a certain impulse in all writers to want to please.”

From an interview with author Dorothy Allison on

When you started writing, did your family know?
My mother did. She adored country western and gospel music. That can lead to a lot of really bad poetry in an adolescent girl. But every time I’d write a poem, she collected it. That helps a lot when you’re a little baby writer, having someone who adores everything that you utter or write.

You’ve been a guest professor at several colleges and universities . What’s the biggest obstacle you try to help students overcome?
They’ve been conditioned—especially young Southern writers—to write in a voice that is not their own. I try to get them to take a breath and let that go. By that I mean you have to allow yourself to use a voice that is unique and your own, that is not what you’ve read before. There is a certain impulse in all writers to want to please. You have to give up wanting to please.

Do you ever feel completely comfortable and accepted, or do you always feel a little different?
Both things are true. I always say I’m a visitor from another planet! I take a certain joy and power out of being that survivor growing up poor, that embattled female, that lesbian feminist, that Southern accent. It’s a kind of reverse authority. The resistance to contempt really is very powerful.

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