Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers by Gloria Anzaldúa

Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers by Gloria Anzaldúa

21 de mayo 80

Dear mujeres de color, I feel heavy and tired and there is a buzz in my head—too many beers last night. But I must finish this letter. My bribe: to take myself out to pizza. So I cut and paste and line the floor with my bits of paper. My life strewn on the floor in bits and pieces and I try to make some order out of it working against time, psyching myself up with decaffeinated coffee, trying to fill in the gaps.

Leslie, my housemate, comes in, gets on hands and knees to read my fragments on the floor and says, “It’s good, Gloria.” And I think: I don’t have to go back to Texas, to my family of land, mesquites, cactus, rattlesnakes, and roadrunners. My family, this community of writers. How could I have lived and survived so long without it. And I remember the isolation, re-live the pain again.

“To assess the damage is a dangerous act,” writes Cherríe Moraga. To stop there is even more dangerous.

It’s too easy, blaming it all on the white man or white feminists or society or our parents. What we say and what we do ultimately come back to us, so let us own our responsibility, place it in our own hands and carry it with dignity and strength. No one’s going to do my shitwork, I pick up after myself.

It makes perfect sense to me now how I resisted the act of writing, the commitment to writing. To write is to confront one’s demons, look them in the face and live to write about them. Fear acts like magnet; it draws the demons out of the closet and into the ink in our pens.

The tiger riding our backs (writing) never lets us alone. Why aren’t you writing, writing, writing? It asks constantly till we begin to feel we’re vampires sucking the blood out of too fresh an experience; that we are sucking life’s blood to feed the pen. Writing is the most daring thing I have ever done and the most dangerous. Nellie Wong calls writing “the three-eyed demon shrieking the truth.”

Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power. And a woman with power is feared.

What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother’s time? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood. – Alice Walker

I have never seen so much power in the ability to move and transform others as from that of the writing of women of color.

In the San Francisco area, where I now live, none can stir the audience with their craft and truthsaying as do Cherríe Moraga (Chicana), Genny Lim (Asian American), and Luisah Teish (Black). With women like these, the loneliness of writing and the sense of powerlessness can be dispelled. We can walk among each other talking of our writing, reading to each other. And more and more when I’m alone, though still in communion with each other, the writing possesses me and propels me to leap into a timeless, spaceless no-place where I forget myself and feel I am the universe. This is power.

It’s not on paper that you create but in your innards, in the gut and out of living tissue—organic writing I call it. A poem works for me not when it says what I want it to say and not when it evokes what I want it to. It works when the subject I started out with metamorphoses alchemically into a different one, one that has been discovered, or uncovered, by the poem. It works when it surprises me, when it says something I have repressed or pretended not to know. The meaning and worth of my writing is measured by how much I put myself on the line and how much nakedness I achieve.

Audre said we need to speak up. Speak loud, speak unsettling things and be dangerous and just fuck, hell, let it out and let everybody hear whether they want to or not. – Kathy Kendall

I say mujer mágica, empty yourself. Shock yourself into new ways of perceiving the world, shock your readers into the same. Stop the chatter inside their heads.

Your skin must be sensitive enough for the lightest kiss and thick enough to ward off the sneers. If you are going to spit in the eye of the world, make sure your back is to the wind. Write of what most links us with life, the sensation of the body, the images seen by the eye, the expansion of the psyche in tranquility: moments of high intensity, its movement, sounds, thoughts. Even though we go hungry we are not impoverished of experiences.

I think many of us have been fooled by the mass media, by society’s conditioning that our lives must be lived in great explosions, by “falling in love,” by being “swept off our feet,” and by the sorcery of magic genies that will fulfill our every wish, our every childhood longing. Wishes, dreams, and fantasies are important parts of our creative lives. They are the steps a writer integrates into her craft. They are the spectrum of resources to reach the truth, the heart of things, the immediacy and the impact of human conflict. – Nellie Wong

Many have a way with words. They label themselves seers, but they will not see. Many have the gift of tongue but nothing to say. Do not listen to them. Many who have words and tongue have no ear; they cannot listen and they will not hear.

There is no need for words to fester in our minds. They germinate in the open mouth of the barefoot child in the midst of restive crowds. They wither in ivory towers and in college classrooms.

Throw away abstraction and the academic learning, the rules, the map and compass. Feel your way without blinders. To touch more people, the personal realities and the social must be evoked- not through rhetoric but through blood and pus and sweat.

Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues of fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice. Put your shit on the paper.

We are not reconciled to the oppressors who whet their howl on our grief. We are not reconciled.

Find the muse within you. The voice that lies buried under you, dig it up. Do not fake it, try to sell it for a handclap or your name in print.


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admin & queen at Hermana Resist Press
Noemi is a sirena, poet-curandera living in South Texas. A writer, cultural critic and historian, she enjoys paints, gesso, tattoos and eating.

2 comments on “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers by Gloria AnzaldúaAdd yours →

  1. Thank you for republishing this. This piece of writing has been the singular reason why I keep on writing. And offer to others as gifts to write. Even when there is little left to write. Even when all there is left is blood, and pus, and shit. So thank you!

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