By Dawnn Anderson
“Being a woman of color you are forced to choose between being a woman and being black. But both are my realities. The writing circle shows diversity in our experiences. We are not all the same.”
That was one of the sentiments expressed on International Women’s Day March 8, at the Jane Addams Hull-House museum, where eight strangers openly shared their lives through reflective free writing exercises.
Inspired by the feminist writing of June Jordan and Audre Lorde, among others, Sage Community Health Collective partnered with the Jane Addams Hull-House museum to create “a safe brave space” for women to share their innermost thoughts, free from judgment.
“We just make sure the ways that we practice it are in accordance with our values and make sure that it is non-hierarchal,” said Tanuja Jagernauth, certified acupuncturist and herbalist of SCHC and facilitator of the event.
“What that means for me is that there is no leader of the group telling everybody what good or bad writing is.”
The intimate crowd was composed of one additional facilitator, Amy Mall, who serves as the museum’s program coordinator and six members of the general public. This particular event mirrored SCHC’s monthly writing circles, which usually last for two hours and is rooted in feminist and anti-oppressive principles.
“It’s feminist in the sense that we center the stories of people who are normally marginalized, and we try to lift up those voices. So, it is often queer people of color, mostly female-identified, who come to our circle,” said Jagernauth, who makes it a priority to ask attendees about their preferred gender pronouns at the start of each session.
The free writing sessions were prompted by thoughts that ranged from freedom to healing and creation. Attendees were advised to only share as much as they wanted to share and were free to withhold from sharing at all.
The only rule they were advised to follow was to keep their pens in motion, a general tenet of free writing. It was also understood that the content shared during the circle was confidential and should not have left the confines of any session.
“In your own world you focus on your own story,” said Lauren O’Brien, 22, education intern at the Jane Addams Hull-House museum, who has kept a journal since she was six. But when you sit in a circle with women you don’t know experiencing solidarity, know that you are not alone.”
“I am happy with the intimacy [the circle provides] and it always feels like a safe space,” said Tameka Haywood, 33, of the Chatham neighborhood, who added she recognizes the importance of giving voice to a woman’s perspective as a poet.
Haywood said the writing circle encourages women who experience life and its many emotions to “give yourself gratitude for anything you can put down on paper.”