2016 ESR Writers Colloquium: Keynote speaker Patricia Raybon
Unlocking the Chokehold: Race, Justice, and the Grace of Writing Our Whole Selves
When a Black street preacher in Denver died after five sheriff's deputies put him in a chokehold, an A.M.E. church organized a protest and helped force a legal settlement. The incident also left one member of that church – author Patricia Raybon – with a familiar dilemma: should she ignore her other writing projects to focus exclusively on racial justice in her hometown? She did write on the killing; but what about her mystery novel, always on the back burner? Or her "frivolous" reflection on decluttering and faith? Or a sports essay called “Bicycling With God?” Should those officers’ chokehold restrain something in her, too? For writers, race alone is a minefield -- full of unofficial rules, unwritten expectations, and the possibility of triggering explosions. Should only people of color write about race matters? Must writers of color exclusively explore race – or put race at the center of their stories and lives? Will other writers stop tiptoeing around race, avoiding the topic as if it's an artistic taboo? As an award-winning African American journalist and author of spirituality narratives, Raybon has navigated these tensions for her entire career. In this talk, she will explore her dilemma: how to write stories that transcend her racial identity while staying real and relevant to that identity. At the same time, she will suggest that all writers – not just writers of color – can advance the conversation by writing race as one part of their whole selves. A journalist by training, Patricia Raybon is the award-winning author of Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, and Their Path to Peace; I Told the Mountain to Move, a prayer memoir; and My First White Friend, a racial forgiveness memoir. A lifelong member of the A.M.E. Church, Raybon has also published a tribute book on African American spirituals, Bound for Glory, and The One Year God’s Great Blessing’s Devotional. Her essays on family and faith have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Christianity Today, and In Touch, among others.