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Dorothy Allison Book Recommendation

November 15, 2010

On the plane ride back to Providence from Chicago, I dug into my backpack and pulled out the book I have been intending to dive into for years– Dorothy Allison‘s “Skin”. Years ago I had read her fiction book, “Bastard Out Of Carolina” which was incredible, and I stayed on the lookout at bookstores for her other works. I found “Skin”, which I immersed myself in so successfully, I read half the book on the flight home. Dorothy’s writing is so fluid, it carried me weightlessly across the sky. It’s a series of autobiographical essays, all of which are thoroughly engrossing. I lost myself in the pages, and was completely drawn into her words. She starts with giving a context for her perspective- growing up poor in the South. She writes about her subsequent migration to New York where she finds a radical, feminist, lesbian community. She expresses the mixing of her past and the new life she creates as initially opposing identities. Her description about how we can compartmentalize certain aspects of our self in order to survive, and how that can create a splintering of self, resonated very deeply with me. Her essay “A Question Of Class” discusses in a very real way her attempt to construct a new identity, and to put to the side the experiences she had that shaped her life. I particularly was drawn to several lines in this piece, “Busywork became a trance state. I ignored who I really was and how I became this person, continued in that daily progress, became an automaton who became what she did.”
She writes about working feverishly with the radical feminist community- including becoming involved in starting a women’s bookstore, editing feminist magazines, and living in a feminist cooperative. She very eloquently expresses the tension between her realities growing up poor, and how that often contrasted with the romanticized perspective of poverty that was envisioned by the middle and upper class feminists around her. Dorothy’s description of her path towards writing is expressed in a way that I think resonates with many people (particularly activists) who struggle towards liberating themselves creatively. In her words, “the idea of writing stories seemed frivolous when there was so much work to be done, but everything changed when I found myself confronting emotions and ideas that could not be explained away or postponed until after the revolution.”
These writings describe her personal journey exploring her identity, confronting and describing the events that shaped it, and her path to writing and self liberation. For the reader, we may all be carried away with her by the strength of her writing- but also find the inspiration to explore our own identities and liberate our own creative minds. I find her writing to be revolutionary in that her words can be a seed for us to plant on our own path, or be much needed water on a seed we have already planted.
I highly recommend reading this book!

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