Our Quiet Leaders

When I think about women who are leaders, I cannot help but think of those who are famous and get lots of attention for their works. Since they do not need any focus, I like to remember the living and breathing women whom the public does not know, and may never, because they are every woman.

As a woman and a leader, I am the young tenant next door who hears your cries while your husband yells and pounds you in the wee hours of the morning. I quietly call the Police for help for you, begging them not to say I called. Of course, they did. Referring to my youth, he yells at me through the walls, “Report that, Peanut Butter!” Now I cower in bed at night with a knife under my pillow. At least, he is no longer hitting you.

As a woman and a leader, I am poor. I volunteer long hours at a local hospice. Unless a patient wants to talk, I do what needs to be done–open or close blinds, hold a shaky hand, or sit quietly nearby. I love it when I usher wheelchair bound patients downstairs to a live music event. Their worry lines ease over that hour.

As a woman and a leader, I write letters about injustice, share opinions, thoughts, and feelings. I know doing this is only a millisecond blip on the world’s computer screen. However, it helps keep my energy flowing and depression at bay.

As a woman and a leader, I grew up in a bigoted family. Yet I married my love, who just happened to be of a different race. My husband and sons are beautiful, and we will nurture each other forever. He and I teach our boys that racism and hate are ugly truths but that they do not have to define our lives.

As a woman and a leader, I teach reading to adults at the library. It is for everyone who wants to enrich their lives with the many adventures and worlds that lie within those book covers. We all love it and read vivid stories to each other.

As a woman and a leader, I love with ferocity. I hate and scream. I fight with words. I sit, watch, and listen. I am tender, sexual, and loving. I love my life and yours. I stand arm-in-arm with you from all continents around the globe. I bow and honour you. Your children are mine; my sons and daughters are yours. We are the unsung leaders of our evolving world.

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Word Works: Ellen Bass on Controlled Chaos

Hugo House published on January 5, 2017
Co-presented by LiTFUSE

A certain kind of poem, story, or essay reaches out a long arm and sweeps disparate, unexpected things into its net. It scoops in a great deal of material that is more or less obviously related. It doesn’t hug the shore. It doesn’t walk a narrow line. It retains a kind of wildness. It can seem untamed. And yet all the elements have enough magnetic or gravitational attraction, enough resonance, that the writing feels organically whole. This talk will show you how to create your own controlled chaos in writing. After the talk, Jeanne Morel conducted a Q&A with Bass, taking a few audience questions as well as posing her own. Ellen Bass‘s poetry includes Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014), The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), and Mules of Love (BOA, 2002). She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973). Her nonfiction books include The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (HarperCollins, 1988, 2008) and Free Your Mind: The Book for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth (HarperCollins, 1996). Her work has frequently been published in the New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, and the New York Times Magazine, as well as many other journals. Among her awards are a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship from the California Arts Council, two Pushcart Prizes, the Lambda Literary Award, Elliston Book Award, Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod/Hardman, Larry Levis Prize from Missouri Review, and the New Letters Prize. She lives in Santa Cruz, California, and teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University. www.ellenbass.com

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