Wendy Call: Women Authoring Change

By Hedgebrook Staff

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Categories: Women Authoring Change,

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Wendy Call is a writer and a Hedgebrook alumna. We asked her about her work and about being a Woman Authoring Change.

 

Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

I am a nonfiction writer through and through: literary journalism, memoir, lyric essay, researched-based writing, personal essay, and (my latest passion) collage essays in digital formats. I write pretty much every form of prose that is based in fact. Though I have zero aptitude for fiction or poetry, I live vicariously in those literary worlds by translating short fiction and poetry from Spanish.

I have four current literary projects:

 

Do you consider yourself an activist?

For a long time, I considered myself an organizer, rather than an activist. Before I turned my attention to writing, I devoted a decade (the 1990s) to full-time work as a grassroots organizer.

Once I began writing, I demoted myself to “activist,” doing volunteer work on social and ecological justice efforts: promoting small-scale organic farming and local food systems, protesting our (seemingly endless) wars in the Middle East, advocating for the release of political prisoners and prison reform, and supporting indigenous autonomy movements in Mexico and Central America.

These days, my life has become so busy (how did that happen?) that my activism seems to manifest mostly through my writing and teaching. I occasionally teach a course at Seattle’s Hugo House titled “Authoring Change: Writing Socially Engaged Nonfiction.” I founded a literary journal, Goddard College’s Duende, that publishes writing and visual art by artists of color and others whose work is underrepresented in literary publications. I smuggle subversive writing into my college creative writing classes. Does any of that count as activism? I am not sure.

 

Would you characterize your writing as activist? Why or why not?

I have a fairly high bar for what I consider to be “activism” and I try to be realistic about the impact of my writing in the world. That said, to be perfectly honest, my only interest in literature is as a form of social engagement. I came to writing as a way of understanding the community dynamics that made it difficult for people (at least in the U.S.) to set aside short-term, personal interests and work toward long-term, collective interests. After a decade of grassroots organizing work, that question weighed heavily upon me.

In 1997, I was lucky enough to attend a gathering in southern Mexico of more than 800 community activists from villages facing the monstrous repercussions of economic globalization. These indigenous people were facing the loss of their lands, their livelihoods, and even their languages. But rather than mourn, they were organizing—as Joe Hill encouraged us to do a century ago, before he was executed for his activism.

My experience at that 1997 gathering in Mexico led (nearly fourteen years later) to my book No Word for Welcome: The Mexican Village Faces the Global Economy. When it was published in 2011, I knew that the number of people who would buy (or borrow) and read the whole book was quite small. I decided to invest my time, energy, and money into public readings and radio interviews, since many more people listen to the radio than read books. (Some of those interviews are available at my website.) I especially enjoyed the dialogues at events and on radio call-in shows—something that a writer rarely has with her audience.

 

What impact do you hope your writing will have in the world?

I don’t mean to shirk the question, but I don’t believe that is for the writer to decide. That said, I have aspirations. I hope that my writing might somehow contribute to the slow process by which we can each, in some way, set aside our short-term, individual interests and focus on long-term, collective interests. (Those concerns are, increasingly, converging.)

For many years I kept at my desk a quote from Alice Walker: “I fall in love with a people in struggle.” I do, too. After ten years as an organizer, I realized that I was not particularly good at organizing events or rallies, so I decided to play more to my strengths: writing, editing, and teaching.

 

What’s the best feedback you’ve received from a reader/audience member?

I can’t pick a single “best,” as I am grateful for all the feedback I’ve ever received. Really, I appreciate even the negative feedback—though not immediately—as it teaches me something. What I most crave as a writer is some (any!) sort of engagement.

When No Word for Welcome came out, I sent a copy to the only person I knew from that region of Mexico who could read English. She read the book and then wrote back that I got the story right. That was the best possible feedback anyone could have given me. As a nonfiction writer I aspire, more than anything, to get it right.

 

About Wendy Call:

Wendy Call co-edited the craft anthology Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide (Penguin, 2007) and wrote No Word for Welcome (Nebraska, 2011), winner of Grub Street’s National Book Prize for Nonfiction. She is an English and Environmental Studies faculty member at Pacific Lutheran University and makes her home in Seattle. Her current literary projects are supported by 4Culture and the National Endowment for the Arts. She spent a glorious month in Hedgebrook’s Oak Cottage in 2003 and has enjoyed several alumna return stays, most recently in 2010.

 


 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

2 Comments

  • Rebecca Cleary
    11:57 AM - 9 July, 2015

    Engaging interview. So happy to hear your voice…

    • Wendy Call
      10:35 PM - 9 July, 2015

      Thank you, Rebecca! I am grateful!

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