Words have always fascinated me. From childhood, I’ve read voraciously. I’ve taken courses on linguistics, and, in the classes I teach, I bore my students endlessly by showing them the history of words and how words are formed.
Words! They are amazing. The words I’m typing now have never before been put together in this way. Even more amazing: when you read these words at sometime in the future, you’ll know exactly what I was thinking at this moment.
The most exciting example of the power of words I’ve been part of was from 1985-87, when I taught English in a school for pregnant teenagers. The majority of the students were African-American, most lived in poverty and many had struggled in school. But, with the coming of a baby, each courageous young woman came to this program to complete her education and give her child a better life.
In tenth-grade English, I taught The Diary of Anne Frank. We’d read Shakespeare, Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom they enjoyed, but they really loved this play. Even those who couldn’t read—and there were several–listened, spellbound. The story of a Jewish girl who lived in the 1940’s and who hid from the Nazis in a tiny attic room spoke to my students like nothing else we’d read.
Through her words, Anne Frank, isolated in her ghetto created by prejudice, reached out over forty-five years, fromAmsterdamto these minority students shut up in a ghetto inLouisville,Kentucky. My students understood Anne Frank and were astonished to discover that another young woman had suffered from the prejudice that surrounded them. Anne Frank became one of them and they joined her in that attic.
This is what storytelling is: reaching out over the years and through the differences and divisions between people to touch emotions and open the reader to new ideas.
And we are the storytellers, the ones who transmit the heritage, who transport our readers beyond the barriers of time and place, who deal with the truths of our experiences, who share and interpret the struggles we all face.
As writers, we are magicians. We create worlds that have never existed before and populate them with characters that spring from our imaginations. We fiddle with our creation’s lives. They get sick, suffer, fall in love–all with a few keystrokes on our computers.
The words we write make people we’ve never met laugh and cry and think and sometimes get angry. What tremendous power words have. What an amazing, awesome craft this is. To be magicians. To work miracles.