Becoming a Woman [Reader] Writer
This piece showcases the power of female writers. Cristina and Fiona showcase how they started writing and pursued a career in writing.
Becoming literate, then passionate about reading and writing ironically begins for me in a home where literacy flourished, though it was literacy in the traditional sense. My mother was a pattern maker who created master samples of the most intricate item of clothing one could imagine. A seamstress’s apprentice from the age of 8, she made her own clothing by the age of 10, and designed patterns by the time she was a teen. The eye for fashion, design, and beauty filled our home, even though she never read to me, purchased a book or magazine, or encouraged my sister and I to read. Kindergarten through middle school were years inspired by the literacies my mother knew intricately–creating a beautiful garment from scratch, revising it according to the precise measurements of one’s body and taste, customizing every last detail with precision and love. This precision transferred into the beautiful meals she cultivated for our small family each evening—always a “primo piatto” and “secondo,” per our Southern Italian culture. Meals filled with pastas of every shape and size, colorful vegetables, legumes, meats and fishes were seasoned generously with basil, oregano, olive oil and always love. I did not realize it then, but I was learning literacy– precision and power of rhetorical objects–albeit, in a non-traditional way.
My high school years exposed me to the great white masters of the canon (before DEI and POCs were rightfully considered, and belatedly included into my conservative, catholic high school’s curriculum). Of the many writers we read, Jane Austen’s stories transported my adolescent imagination, illustrating that my strict upbringing was not my experience alone. I dreamed I’d find a devoted suitor like Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, but aspired more to Jo March’s smart, independent character in Little Women, than that of the docile, too-tolerant Elizabeth Bennet.
College opened my world to a medley of writers and genres. Emphatic writers like Ayn Rand shocked me with their deterministic world views. I sought other writers whose values might be less individualistic and profit-motivated, and more aligned with those of my family’s slow culture.
In my graduate school experiences, the words of Gayl Jones, Gwendolyn Brooks, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amy Tan, Sonia Cisneros, Julia Alvarez and so many others exploded everything I knew about literature. Here were stories that depicted visceral female experiences that finally resonated with my soul and memory for years after I put them away.
These stories led to my own research and discovery of Helen Barolini, Marianna De Marco Torgovnick, Louise DeSalvo, Rita Ciresi, Lisa Scottoline, and so many Italian American women writers I never once encountered in my American “education.”
Today, the words of Anna Maria Ortese, Elena Ferrante, Alba De Céspedes, tell stories of my mother’s becoming, her mother’s, and my own, mixed with those of Octavia Butler, Jacqueline Woodson, Mariama Bâ. I look for these writers. They have been referred to me by friends, colleagues, students, my children, my mentees, and often, my sister. Their stories fill me. They overwhelm me. I know so very little, and have so much more to learn, so much more living, writing, and becoming to do.
Writing has always been an important part of my life. When I was little, I had a love for reading which sparked my interest to want to write. And that started when every night my mother and I would read books like Amelia Bedelia and Junie B. Jones. Those characters brought humor into my life but it also made me realize how writing can show various characters coming from all sorts of challenges and struggles in life. It showed me that anyone can write about their experiences. I felt inspired to write experiences of my life and create a journal for myself. I turned to writing during my happiest and darkest days.
But what really motivated me to eventually write a memoir about my life was Maya Aneglou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her book was so inspiring to me because it made me realize that I wanted to write a story about the good times I experienced, the obstacles I’ve faced and what I’ve learned along the way. And as an aspiring journalist, I want to write not only my own personal stories but about how people’s life experiences shaped them into the people that they are today.
Memoirs are now my favorite genre and I’ve enjoyed reading memoirs from female writers. Girlhood by Melissa Febos, AfterShocks by Nadia Owusu, and Joyce Carol Oates’ memoir, A Widow’s Story inspired me to write and learn how storytelling is such an important and powerful tool to glimpse into someone else’s life.
And most of all, my mentor Cristina inspires me everyday to continue writing. I’ve learned so much from her and how I can improve my writing skills and eventually pursue my passion for journalism. Without these strong female writers and mentors, I don’t think I would have the inspiration to do what I love the most.
Cristina and Fiona thought it would be best to write a piece discussing their love for writing. Inspired by the female writers in their lives, they showcased how much they meant to them and how Cristina and Fiona began to pursue a career in writing.
Fiona Hernandez is a senior in college studying journalism. Ever since she was a child, she watched the Today show every morning with her family. That inspired her to go into journalism because she wanted to travel around the world and share other people's stories. She loves to read, write, travel, and meditate. Her passion for journalism, communications, and public relations has shown her that storytelling is a powerful tool. She is excited to share her writing with all of you and create new stories!
Dr. Cristina Migliaccio is Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at CUNY Medgar Evers College. She received her M.A. in English from CUNY Queens College and her Ph.D. from St. John’s University in 2017. Her research interests include postcolonial digital humanities, translingual/transmodal literacies, and Italian-American and Italian Diaspora Studies. Her essays appear in peer-reviewed journals such as Educause Review Online, Open Words: Access and English Studies Online, and Reviews in the Digital Humanities.