Women Authoring Change

By Elana Lim

Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

After attending Hedgebrook’s inaugural Master Class, I was inspired to contribute to the Board of Directors, joining others in furthering Hedgebrook’s mission.

“Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come.”

This mission has personal meaning for me. Just two generations before, 人人 (Ngin Ngin, meaning paternal grandmother) in our Toisanese dialect of Chinese, came to America as Tow Yee Moo (wife of Tow Yee). She started her American life in Seattle’s Chinatown in 1921, where she died in 1981. During her life, she never felt safe to tell her story to any of her family. However, because of her trek during uncertain times, she changed the direction of future generations, and I was now benefitting, having been granted an opportunity to sit at the Hedgebrook table and write stories of growing up in Chinatown.

During my Master Class experience, I was touched by the fairies in the circle of their mushroom rings. I was astounded by the depths of the women I met. My sanctuary became the worn wooden bench, set inside a fairy ring, where the sun rose beyond the cattails. A dancing fire snapped its fingers in the wood burning stove and kept my toes warm and my body fed. The pressure of a midnight silence was so deep and still that my head felt as if it might explode.

One month after my first Hedgebrook Board retreat, we received a link to the article below. I was humbled by what Mansoura Ez Eldin, an Egyptian woman from Cairo, wrote of, and how distant that bench, how different the fire, and how remote the silence was from her experience. During the Board retreat, we spoke of Mansoura and her plan to come for a residency. As I read her story on February 2nd, the eve of Chinese New Year, I held my breath, hoping that her plans would remain intact. The words, “Silence is a crime,” stayed with me, and I thought of 人人, and the war that must have raged within her body and spirit for her own freedom to speak. She had arranged through a note that my father found after her death, for her tombstone to read Kwan Hay, a name that none of her offspring recognized.

Months later, we now know of the outcome of change in Egypt. Mansoura will indeed be coming to Hedgebrook. This is the reason why I am on the Board, to continue to help bring the stories from women like Mansoura, like Kathi Diamant’s story of Kafka’s Last Love, like Angie Chau’s, Quiet As They Come – stories of escaping Vietnam to live in America. The list goes on and on, and I am committed to Women Authoring Change in honor of 人人 who found her own way to author change.

By the Freedom of Information Act, in 2008 I acquired a copy of 人人’s Chinese Exclusion Act papers. Based on her interrogation, I could now understand her fear. Over 25 years after her death, it was revealed to me that Kwan Hay was the name her parents had bestowed upon her at birth. Her vision, the way she could tell her story, was through her tombstone.

Please read Mansoura’s article. Mansoura is a writer coming this year as part of a new program Hedgebrook is participating in with the Alliance of Artists Communities–Beirut39.

Mansoura Ez Eldin was born in Egypt in 1976. Her collection Dhaw’a Muhtaz (Shaken Light) was published in Cairo in 2001. Her successful debut novel Maryam’s Mazewas was published by the award-winning Merit publishers in 2004, with the English edition published by AUC Press, Cairo. She has worked in Egyptian television, and presently runs the book review section of the renowned Egyptian literary magazine Akhbar al-Adab (Literature News). Her second novel Beyond Paradise was shortlisted for the Arabic Booker Prize 2010.

 

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