I Have Arrived Before My Words: The Autobiographical Writings of Homeless Women

Deborah Pugh, Author, Jeanie Tietjen, With
Deborah Pugh, Author, Jeanie Tietjen, With Charles River Press $14 (0p) ISBN 978-0-9647124-2-3
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Through the federally funded WritersCorps program, Pugh and Tietjen conducted writing workshops for homeless women in Washington, D.C. Here they describe both their experiences and present the autobiographical writings of five such women. Although Pugh and Tietjen are too often under the spell of graduate school parlance, when they simply describe the daily goings-on at their makeshift meetings they are delightful and warm. ""Nothing lifts the heart more than seeing these women bent over their notebooks, with no motivation other than the act itself, unselfconsciously following the thread of thoughts they themselves invent. There is head-scratching, murmuring out loud, sudden bolts for a cigarette, humming-what music!"" A useful introduction to and discussion of each woman's history and character follow every personal essay. Unfortunately, three of the five homeless women's writings are of little interest. ""Ann,"" for example, is too crazy for words, and instead of evoking admiration or sympathy, readers will pity her meanderings. Pugh muses: ""Ann's story waits for her courage to internalize and express her mania as both burden and gift."" Readers witness only its burden. The two who make the book worthwhile are ""Gayle,"" an irrepressible, indomitable crack addict (""He slapped me and I slapped him back, and as I turned to run, he pulled out his gun and shot me in the back. As I fell to the ground, I said, God forgive him for he knows not what he's done... I forgave him enough to go back to him and as far as to go and pick out rings to get married""), and Dionne, who writes her clear-headed and sad story as letters from prison. Though uneven and remarkably unrevealing about the state of homelessness, this book should be useful and illuminating to anyone who teaches writing. (Jan.)
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