Brenda lived most of her life, writing and teaching in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the city where I grew up, within a mile or two of where I have lived most of my life.
I was well into my forties before I even knew who she was, but from the moment I read her book: If You Want to Write I knew that I had found a mentor whose simple prose and honesty could guide me in the maturation of my own work.
Brenda, taught writing at the YWCA, she published a memoir about her life growing up in Minneapolis. She wrote for local newspapers and magazines.
She was born at the end of the nineteenth century and lived out her twenties in New York City. She was connected to various movements in art, literature and politics. She was a proto-feminist and revolutionary thinker, and she came to all of that with a simple self-assuredness that was her defining characteristic.
This is why she is a hero to me.
In her teaching, which she summarized in her treatise on writing, she offered the most basic advice to her students: she told them to find their own voice and write from there.
She encouraged her students to simply be themselves, to tell their stories with the written word as if they were speaking to their closest friend, to shout when they are shouting to whisper in the time of whispering.
She told them to be true to themselves, to write with authenticity, because the reader will know if they are faking it.
She encouraged her students to listen to themselves, to become familiar with the sound of their own voice.
Her book on writing had been out of print for nearly forty years until, a few years after her death in the 1980’s, it went back into production and became a best seller.
Like Brenda herself, her book was ahead of its time.
Given First – 2020.03.05