My posts this week on The Best American Poetry blog have all been about what it means to build writing communities of difference and writing communities of care. I am deeply grateful for this opportunity. Voices like my own (black, LGBT, Buddhist, and from working poor worlds) are underrepresented in mainstream literary venues. Tonight my friend and fellow author, Kathy Jones, taught me that I am not just a survivor, but an "overcomer" and reading and writing makes me so.
The Best American Poetry community is an intentionally, regularly integrative and inclusive literary institution. Yet, elsewhere, despite notable efforts, we still write and read within very culturally and aesthetically segregated worlds. Not all of our institutions are consistently, demandingly polyvocal, polyvalent, multigenre, cross-style, and inclusive. Moreover, quiet as its kept and difficult as it may be to hear, some perform diverse representation on the surface (through fleeting, occasional tokenism) while seething with toxic power plays underneath that undermine the spirit of true inclusion.
And so, for my final blog post this week, I ask for your help on behalf of a friend who is a remarkable writer. Alexis H. Allen is an elder black Southern writer, an ordained minister, a teacher, and a survivor of domestic violence who is writing a book called In Pew Pain about alienation within spiritual communities. If the quotation from an excerpt from her book piques your interest, then will you please suggest publishing venues for either a longform essay adapted from her book or for the book itself? You may visit my website and email me at the address listed on the righthand side of the homepage. Or you can leave a comment at this post. Here's the excerpt (included here with her permission):
From In Pew Pain by Alexis H. Allen
It was 1980 in Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was living with my husband, a non-commissioned officer stationed at this military army base. I attended church services at one of the chapel. The service as called the “Fort Knox Gospel Hour.” Wednesday evening Bible Study at the chapel was a highlight of the week. I needed words of inspiration and “some church,” as we say colloquially, to give me a lift until Sunday.
That Wednesday I made certain that the house sparkled and that the best dinner possible was prepared. The family was served, everything was fine and there were no excuses for me to stay home. It was time to go to Bible Study. There were no problems until I started to leave out of the door. As I picked up my Bible and my purse, my husband grabbed me by the arm and quietly but harshly said, “If you go to that church, I am going to come there, drag you out and stomp a mud hole in your ass.”
As I drove off, I trembled so uncontrollably that it seemed that the steering wheel would be rattled from it’s place. My greatest fear was that someday my husband would carry out his threats, attack me unmercifully, or kill me and the children as he said he would.
The acts of domestic violence that occur inside the walls of faith communities are represented by staggering, terrifying statistics. The legendary Christian leader Chuck Colson (1931-2012) once said that, "Tragically, studies reveal that spousal abuse is just as common within the evangelical churches as anywhere else. This means that about 25 percent of Christian homes witness abuse of some kind."
I safely arrived at Bible Study that evening and sat on the front row of the church. I found it hard to concentrate on what was being taught. I saw the Pastor. He gestured for me to come. He asked, “Why are you crying, Sister Allen. It can’t be because of Bible Study.” I told him about the threat that my husband made. He responded with, “Get your purse and your Bible. Go home. Have you seen the size of his feet?”
I appreciate your advice for Alexis H. Allen, and I deeply appreciate your openness and acceptance of my writing at The Best American Poetry blog.