Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Come see me at the Printers Row Book Fair this Saturday!

Photo from www.planet99.com

Photo from www.planet99.com

 

I will be selling and signing books at the Printers Row Book Fair this Saturday, January 7, 2:00-6:00 p.m. at the Chicago Writers Association Tent. The CWA tent will be set up in front of the Transportation Building between Polk and Harrison. Stop by and say hi!

"Family Redefined" published in Gather Magazine

My article “Family Redefined” was published in the June edition of Gather, a monthly magazine for women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. In it I talk about my decision not to have children, my trepidation over coming out of the childfree closet, and why I think the church’s definition of family is too narrow and small. The article is available in the print edition. Please buy the magazine and support your ECLA sisters.

IMG_2527

New article published in Gather Magazine

My article “Family Redefined” has been published in the June edition of Gather, a monthly magazine for ELCA women. In it I talk about my decision not to have children, the trepidation I had about coming out of the childfree closet, and why I think the church’s definition of family is far too narrow and small. The article is only in the print magazine. I hope you don’t have trepidation about buying the magazine. It is a well done and thought out magazine (with excellent Bible studies), and they are very generous with writers, so support your Evangelical Lutheran sisters with a subscription.

IMG_2527

May be Rachel Shteir should've just reviewed the books

TheThirdCoastLast week, Thursday night found me at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago with my good friend, Lainie Petersen, to hear Thomas Dyja talk about his new book, The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream. Both Dyja and the audience were excited that the book was going to be on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, and be reviewed it its pages. That excitement didn’t last long when Rachel Shteir’s “review” of The Third Coast and two other books about Chicago came out. Instead of reviewing the three books Shteir wrote an op-ed piece about what she hates about Chicago (the only three things she could find to like were: “The beauty of Lake Michigan. A former rail yard has become Millennium Park. Thanks to global warming, the winters have softened.”). She did make some good points about Chicago’s sins: corruption, the mob, nepotism, and the shooting violence in the city. But these were overshadowed by her diatribe, and a lot historical inaccuracies she cited in the article. She also portrayed Dyja’s book as a cynical take on Chicago’s history of how it all went wrong under the first Mayor Daley. But I know the way she “interpreted” Dyja’s book was wrong, because last week I heard Mr. Dyja talk about his book. I had a nice chat with him as he signed my book, and I had started reading it. I first found out about this op-ed piece masquerading as a book review on The Chicago Reader’s blog, The Bleader in Mike Miner’s insightful and accurate take-down of Shteir, “Not Quite Detroit: Chicago as described by a New York Times book critic.” I made this response:

Shtier’s article makes one of Dyja’s points perfectly from his talk last week at the Harold Washington Library. Dyja said that one of the hallmarks of Chicago (then and now) is the city’s inclusivity and intimacy. He contrasted that with NYC’s exclusivity: you have to know the right people to get in the right places, so you can rub where you go in everyone else’s face. Whereas in Chicago everyone’s welcome at the party. In contrast to how she depicted Hefner as free sex, Dyja said that Hefner was key in this because Playboy showed men how to come to the party and act at it. Hefner showed Playboy members how to live in this new, swanky America and everyone was welcome. Shtier’s derogatory attitude about Chicago shows NYC’s uppity exclusivity like nothing else can. She doesn’t like Chicago because she doesn’t like how inclusive we are, which comes through in Lina’s comment on the differences in the artistic communities between Chicago and NYC. Here you’re welcome to come and experiment and play all you want (another Dyja’s 6 qualities that produced the Chicago of The Third Coast); whereas, in NYC you have to have the right pedigree and credentials to get in.
I’ve only started reading The Third Coast, but based on Dyja’s talk last week, I think Shtier’s review warps the book into what she wants the book to be: why Chicago will never be as good as NYC. I think Ms. Shtier needs to move back to NYC since she’s so miserable in Chicago.

This was Thomas Dyja’s response to my comment:

Thank you Shawna, for sharing some of what I said at the library last week. Before people start to confuse my book with a review of it, I hope they give THE THIRD COAST a read. It’s by no means a take down of Chicago; if anything it’s an affirmation of the city’s importance to America.

Walter Ellison. Train Station, 1935, The Chicago Art Institute

Walter Ellison. Train Station, 1935, The Chicago Art Institute

I did have to qualify my “everyone’s invited to the party” comment because Chicago is one of the most racist and segregated cities in the U. S.:

I realize Chicago has its evil side. I was horrified when I moved here in 2006 by the nepotism of this city that blindly voted for Todd Stroger, who was obviously not qualified in any way, shape, or form for the office, but they “had” to vote for him because he was the Democrat. Someone made the point about my previous comment that not everyone was invited to the party in Chicago, citing Chicago’s racism and segregation. I absolutely agree. I was citing a point from Dyja’s talk that was actually based on the book, and not Shteir’s opinion about Chicago.

I should also add that Dyja does not paint in the broad strokes in the everybody’s invited to the party that I wrote about in my first comment. He talks about Chicago’s racism and segregation. No Bronzeville was not invited to the party during The Third Coast years. They had their own party: The Black Chicago Renaissance. But as Bontemps said: The main difference between the Harlem Black Renaissance and the Chicago Black Renaissance was that in Chicago they didn’t need the finger bowls. Harlem’s Renaissance was funded by upper-class white patrons, so only the right black artists were admitted. But Chicago’s Black Renaissance was a grass roots art movement, and most of the artists worked other jobs to support themselves while they made incredible art that was a scathing, beautiful and haunting commentary on Chicago’s segregation and racism. If you haven’t seen the They Seek a City exhibit at The Art Institute, I highly recommend it. It’s phenomenal. I’m sorry I painted that so broadly, but I still think that Dyja has a valid point: Chicago is much more inclusive, and NYC prides itself on being exclusive.

But the thing that bothered me the most wasn’t all the Chicago bashing. Rachel Shteir did not review the books. She wrote an op-ed about why she doesn’t like Chicago. As a writer I can’t imagine finally having a book reviewed in the Times then seeing that my book didn’t get reviewed–the reviewer took the opportunity to bash the subject of my book. I was happy to hear my friend Erin Shea Smith, the Vice President of Digital Content at Edelman nail this point home this morning on Chicago’s local NPR station: Shteir, as a book critic, did not do her job. She did not review the three books she was paid to review. She wrote an op-ed piece. An op-ed piece that The New York Times then published as a book review. There has been a fabulous discussion on Erin’s Facebook page about this “book review,” Erin’s response on NPR, and all of our responses. The main reason Erin was on NPR was that Shteir made a comment that Chicago had so few women writers. She named two: Nami Mun and Eula Biss. The response were lists of women writing in Chicago on both blogs and Facebook, and Erin is one of those writers. In a discussion on Erin’s Facebook page I made this observation (which I also shared in the Bleader’s comments):

Shteir is not doing women writers any favors. The Times does not review that many books written by women, and they don’t have that many women book reviewers. Publishing an op-ed instead of a review reinforces their sexist belief that women shouldn’t be taken seriously in the literary world. She whined that Chicago doesn’t have that many women writers, but she didn’t do us any favors by writing a fluff piece for the Times Book Review.

I’ve now looked up the numbers to back up that assertion. In 2012 The New York Time Book Review had 40 female book reviewers (down from 52 in 2011) compared to 215 male book reviewers. The reviewed 89 books by women compared to 316 books by men (Vida Count 2012). Earlier this month Deborah Copaken Kogan wrote “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminine’ Life in Arts and Letters” for The Nation. Last October, Sarah Sentilles wrote “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword: Sexist responses to women writing about religion” for The Harvard Bulletin Review. Both women cite in excurciating detail how both the literary and religious writing worlds do not take them seriously as authors and experts in their areas. Kogan cites how book after book, the cover was changed to look girly and given titles that did not reflect the content of her books, along with the fact that none of her books have reviewed by The Times. Sentilles writes how critic after critic treated her like she was a child instead of a 38 year old women with an M. Div. who knew what she was talking about. Both articles made me question if I really wanted to keep doing this writing thing. It’s hard to keep going when it looks like nothing is going to change. Rachel Shteir is one 1 of 40 female book reviewers for The New York Times Book Review, and “Chicago Manual: ‘The Third Coast’ by Thomas Dyja and More” plays right into the sexist attitude of the publication that women authors aren’t worth taking seriously. After all she couldn’t even be bothered to right a simple book review.

But as I wonder if things will ever change, and if this life in the arts, letters, and religion is worth it, Erin and her wonderful friends as well as the brave black artists of The Chicago Black Renaissance remind me that art can be used as a weapon to change things. Erin, Neil Steinberg (who’s book also was not reviewed in Shteil’s op-ed), and Morning Shift’s host Tony Sarabia make the point that a lot of Chicago’s famous artists and authors get some of their best material from all of Chicago’s evil and sin (you can listen or download the podcast here). On Erin’s Facebook post Adam made this comment:

They were talking about some of the characters that we’ve had in Chicago politics and crime and such. And Miner’s quoting of Atlas bit about the “sinful city” that fueled Saul Bellow’s art. Look at what Mike Royko had to write about, or Studs Terkel, or Neil Steinberg, Mary Schmich and our current writers. Great source material to start with.

My response was:

This city, its politics, its corruptions, and all of its wonderful ghost stories (I write urban fantasy) are a writer’s wet dream. If Chicago didn’t have its myriad of sins and just weird shit, we writers would be up the creek. The same is true for other artists. I recently saw the exhibit at The Art Institute, They Seek a City, that has a lot of work that came from Bronzeville artists during Chicago’s Black Renaissance. They are scathing, beautiful, and haunting commentary on Chicago’s racism and segregation. All of Chicago’s sins is what makes it such a rich artistic city. Or as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy said: “There is something incomplete about this city and its people that fascinates me; it seems to urge one on to completion. Everything still seems possible.” And he said that in the 1930s. I think its still true today.

Art: writing, painting, photography can change things. In Chicago we’ve never done art for art’s sake. Our art rises like dandelions in the cracks of the sidewalk as Thomas Dyja put it. Our art is grounded in our real life about real life problems and seeks justice in the face of oppression, corruption, sexism, and racism. Shteir implies that Chicagoans just go along with the flow of Chicago’s evils, but she’s wrong. At least she’s wrong when it comes to Chicago’s artists. We have a long history of creating art to force social change. And for that reason I will keep writing. If the establishment never recognizes me so be it. I will leave a record that as a woman writer, I did everything I could to change to patriarchal and sexist literary and religious writing worlds.

Women and Fiction: Writing the World Right

(I am working my way through Sandi Amorim’s Spotlight Questions (You can find the interview here). When she asked what was effortless and life giving for me, I answered: “Definitely reading. I love to sit down and get lost in a book. I love to learn new things. I’m always reading seven or eight books at the same time. I just love books. That leads into my love for writing and wanting to give the same blessings to my readers, my favorite authors have given to me.” It reminded me of this article I wrote for Christians for Biblical Equality’s E-Quality Newsletter.)

I’ve always lived in other worlds. As soon as I learned to read, I began devouring books. If I could understand most of the words, I read it. I was always asking Mom what this word and that word meant, and as a result, Mom soon taught me how to use a dictionary. I was in glasses by the time I was ten. There is no proof, but I think because I read so much, my eyes didn’t think there was anything beyond the length of my arm (or the tip of my nose for that matter). By the time I finished sixth grade, I had read the Little House on the Prairie books, A Wrinkle in Time trilogy (back then it was a trilogy), The Chronicles of Narnia, every Judy Blume book, and too many Nancy Drew books to count. In fact, I would sit down after breakfast on Saturdays with a Nancy Drew mystery and have it finished by supper. Of course, writing stories did not lag far behind learning how to read them.

Role Models

The first time I saw the power and potential of a girl, and later a woman, was in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time books. Meg was strong and held her own ground. She did not have special powers and she was not a super-hero, but she did what was right. Her love for her family always compelled her to do the right thing, no matter what it cost her personally. Meg showed me that regardless of your age, you could change the world for the better.

I lived in books filled with girls and women with whom I could relate. I grew up with a complementarian model of who a woman was supposed to be, but I never fit in that mold. I was neither quiet nor submissive, and I was not very proper. I was competitive, opinionated, aggressive, and willing to defend my beliefs. In books I found woman like me, women I wanted to be like.

I will never forget meeting Eowyn in The Two Towers and journeying with her through Return of the King. She was the first woman I met who was also a warrior. She defied the customs of her time, went into battle, and fought for what she believed in. She was the one who destroyed the King of the Nazguls. In Eowyn, I found a sister.

Seeing Humanity in Others

But fiction has done more than just show me what women can do. The genres of science fiction and fantasy also help me to understand what it means to be human. There is a great potential for truth-telling in these genres. I think that is because the worlds in science fiction and fantasy are not “our” world. Because it’s not “us,” “our” culture, “our” world, we can say things that are not readily received in other forums. Over the years, these genres have confronted the prejudices of our world, battling discrimination based on sex, religion, and ethnicity, and going even further to ask, “What does it mean to be human?”

In Children of God, Mary Doria Russell weaves the stories of human and alien through religion. On the world of Rakhat, there are two species: the Jana’ata and the Runa. The Jana’ata will eat the Runa for survival and to maintain the population. Two of the human characters in the book are a Jewish woman, Sofia Mendes, and her autistic son, Isaac. Joining them is Ha’anala, a member of the Jana’ata. Sofia teaches them the Jewish faith. The biblical views begin to change the way Ha’anala looks at her world, and the way she sees the Runa. She realizes all of them are created by Godde. When she is older, she forms a group where the Runa are treated as equals, which becomes a catalyst for starting change in her world. Meanwhile, Isaac has limited speech and dislikes noise. He wants silence and clarity. He works continually on a hand-held computer, looking for what he calls clarity. At the end of the book we find out what he was working on: a symphony. John Clute noted that Isaac “understands the world solely through song, memorizes the genetic codes of the three races into three intercalating tone-rows, and harmonizes them” (Excessive Candour, issue 63, which is no longer online thanks to SyFy’s name change). He calls his composition “The Children of God.” The humans, the Runa, and the Jana’ata are all Godde’s children. The book ends with a question: Where will these three races—all children of Godde—go from here? Children of God makes us think: what does it mean to be made in the image of Godde? To be Godde’s children? Do we really consider those who are “other” (different races, cultures, religions, or ethnicities) as Godde’s children? Would we use and exploit other people if we saw them as children of Godde, or would we radically change the way live as Jana’ata did?

Neil Gaiman creates London Below in Neverwhere: A Novel. A whole world lives beneath the streets of London in old tunnels long forgotten. London Below is populated by those who considered misfits by the inhabitants of London Above. The residents of London Below are seen as homeless, dirty, and destitute. The people of London Above do not even see them; they look right past them. The dwellers of London Below have to talk to them to be seen, but once the conversation is over, the London Abovers forget all about it. Those who reside in London Below are unseen and forgotten people. This challenges the reader to examine how we see people. How do we view those who are considered “misfits”? Do we look past them? Do we see them at all?

Both of these books remind me of the core church doctrine that every single human being on the face of this planet is made in Godde’s image. What do we do with this doctrine, once it is truly realized? Are we able to handle the responsibility this places upon us? What about those we take advantage of, simply because we can? Are there certain people who are invisible to us, who we look through on the street? Fiction has challenged me, throughout my life, to encounter these hard questions, and ask what it means to be human. Godde not only created every human being, but Godde created them in Godde’s own image. I must constantly remind myself to remember this, to live out what I believe.

Male and Female in the Image of Godde

Lately these questions about humanity have morphed into an examination of what it means to be made in the image of Godde as males and females. What does it mean to be a woman created in the image of Godde? What does this look like in our everyday lives?

I’m not sure I’ve found the answer in fiction. But I do know one image from a book that points me in the right direction: Eowyn and Merry in The Return of the King. They ride into battle together, fight together, and defend each other until they are both down. Eowyn does kill the King of the Nazgul, but she could never have done it without the help of Merry. When I think of men and women, made in the image of Godde, this is what I see. Brothers and sisters standing side by side, fighting the evil in our world that would belittle or ignore any person made in Godde’s image, and building Godde’s kingdom together.

This article was originally published in Christians for Biblical Equality’s E-Quality Newsletter, Winter 2008.

Poetry: Daughter of Mary Magdalene

Today is the feast day for Mary Magdalene, the Apostle to the Apostles. This poem was inspired by Mary.

“Daughter of Mary Magdalene”

I want to be a bearer of the gospel.
It doesn’t matter if I bear children.
I want to fulfill my vows to God,
And not have my calling dependent on a man.
As Mary (who had no man) I want to proclaim
I want to shout and shine with love–
The love of a risen Savior
Who has called me as a person in my own right.
I hear the voice of my risen Savior:
“Come follow Me.
Follow Me away from the expectations
Follow Me away from those who limit you
Follow Me into glorious possibilities
Beyond your imagination.
I called you because I wanted you
Not a package deal.
Come, follow Me, and I will be your desire.”
As Mary I come to You
My risen Lord
My risen Lover.
I cast off the images of what I should be
And revel in the truth of who I am:
A bearer of Your good news.

© 2003 by Shawna Renee Bound

Learning to tell stories that empower instead of hurt

Fre-smile by Frerieke

The last couple of days have not been good. I’ve basically gone catatonic when I’ve tried to work Monday and Tuesday. Monday I went back to bed and slept all day. Yesterday I zoned out in front of the TV. Last night I grabbed my journal and began being an investigator, trying to find out what was going on with me. Then I heard “What stories are you telling yourself?” I had to stop and think for a while. These are the stories that I have been telling myself:

I can’t do this. I never finish anything. It’s too big. Who do I think I am? I will be ridiculed. This book comes out and everyone will know I am a fraud.

I decided this story needed a little reality check editing. In The Life Organizer Jen Louden says, “Delineating between facts and stories is one of the most powerful life practices you can develop.” We need to find those facts and tell a new story. Here’s my new story:

I am writing Career Women of the Bible, and I’m almost finished with the book proposal. I have finished one book proposal: Spiritual Direction 101. I have finished a book, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry. So what if I’m ridiculed. Heaven knows I’ve ridiculed enough books and authors. It’s all kharma. If some of it comes back to me, I will be kind, and extend love and grace. I am not a fraud. I know what I’m writing about. I have both the education and experience. I’ve lived intimately with the women of Bible for the last few years. I know them, and they want me to tell their stories. My women need their lives written into being, so people can see who they really are instead of the empty caricatures we get at church.

I’m going to write this and hang it up where I work. Are you having trouble with stories? Are there some stories you want to share with us? May be we can help each other change the stories that no longer serving us.

One of my favorite hymns says:

“Let us bring the gifts that differ
And, in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new church into being,
One of faith and love and praise
“Sing a New Church” by Dolores Dufner, OSB

Can we write a new story into being in splendid varied ways? Write a new community into being full of love, support, and the occasional kick in the pants?

Photo by Frerieke.