Fresno Writer’s Group–Why I’m Quitting

I attended about nine meetings with the Fresno Writer’s Group and I’m quitting. I first talked about my problems with the group in the post Writing Alone. I didn’t want to leave and I tried to make it work but I have no other recourse. Its a small group and I really shouldn’t have taken it so seriously but I gave some time and effort to it and I want to give myself the space to express what I’ve experienced. These are the prime reasons I’m leaving the Fresno Writer’s Group.

BIGGGG # 1) RACISM

The day I walked in, a member of this all-white group made a racist joke and they all sat there and laughed. One of their e-mail members sent me an overtly racist e-mail after I asked them to specify if their work contains violence (including racism) before e-mailing it out for critique. The micro-aggressions have not stopped, even after I complained to the group organizers over several e-mails full of explanations when they appeared to be confused. The co-facilitators of this group, Wayland Jackson and Jeff Cates, are obviously seasoned white racists who are trying to convince me that my perception of them is skewed by unfounded prejudice. They have no intention of checking themselves.

Shannon,

You are entitled to think what you want about me, and I realize there’s nothing that I can say that will change your mind if you’re convinced that I hate anybody based on the color of their skin. You’ve been offended by things I’ve said and done, but don’t assume that I’m saying or doing anything with the intent of offending you. I hope you’ll think about this.

–Jeff Cates

2) Membership

Their membership changes monthly and its obvious that its a small club for the three or four core members who attend regularly and they don’t really care who is there otherwise; they make no effort to encourage membership growth or diversity.

3) Location

The new location is too far out of my way to bother anymore. And its summer, too, 100 degrees+ some days. Simple as that.

4) Age Group

The writers facilitating the group are not only all white but over fifty. I call it like I see it: They’re definitely set in their ways.

5) “Amnesia”

The organizers literally don’t know who’s been there and who has left until Jeff decides to drop writers from the mailing list for their absences. There have been several occasions where neither Jeff nor Wayland remember I was at a meeting.

6) Leadership

As with any group or organization, its hard to address the problems when the leaders are the ones causing it. Its even harder when you’re the only Black person in the room trying to address it because you’re the only person it effects.

~

Though not unexpected, its a huge disappointment that both group leaders refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Its the racism that bothers me the most and the oblivious ease and comfort with which they deny it. I’ve been in enough situations like this and I should’ve stopped coming the first thirty minutes I noticed this bs. Can’t blame a writer for trying.

I quit. Its not worth my time.

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Writing Alone

Last year I joined a writer’s group and it’s virtually the only one in my area. I had a lot of doubts about it because the members of the group are all white, all older than me, and appear to be in comfortable financial situations. I am the only Black person and the only Person of Color in the group, seemingly the only working class/poor person as well. I am also the only high fantasy, romance, and poetry writer, too.

At my very first meeting, casually racist and classist remarks (one of which was about Africa and ebola) were made by the other members. At another meeting I attended, the co-facilitator, one of two white guys, made a joke about not knowing what “a Black slave sounds like” after I voiced some concerns about my lack of desire to read one of the other white members’ work because it was from a book she had written which takes place during the expansion of white colonizers into the West in America; it includes both enslaved Black people with stereotyped names and “American Indians” championed by white saviors. That’s a whole other story in itself though.

Not wanting to give up too quickly out of my desire to be with other writers, I continued to attend meetings. One of the pros of the situation is that despite the group’s lack of racial and ethnic diversity, they tend to give fair feedback and are good writers themselves. I’m not the type of critic who gives a lot of technical feedback, instead I focus on how the writer’s work makes me feel and whether or not it gets me thinking–I offer that as feedback. I wasn’t sure that’s this is very helpful to the others since so many writers view the art of writing as a technical skill and process as if it has a precise formula. I view myself as an artist, not a technical writer or a businessperson trying to sell whatever I have as my main objective. I view my writing as a calling and an art.

I have no desire to continue to deal with their casual bigotry and ignorance, my stress level is high enough and I promised myself I wouldn’t force myself to educate and “mammy” people who don’t want to learn. However, I also don’t want to ride alone, or rather write alone. I don’t believe writing has to be a completely lonely process, as many have asserted that it is, that’s why I joined this group in the first place. I want to be around other writers.

Weighed down by heavy doubts about the group, stress, an unusual bout of illness this year, and helping with the birth of my nephew, I haven’t been back to meetings since late last year. They practice dropping people from the mailing list instead of asking them if they’re actually through with it and also changed the meeting location. I’m not sure if it’s a good idea for me to go back but I don’t want to leave without some closure. It may better idea for me to continue writing alone.