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Risk, Courage, and Women

Contemporary Voices in Prose and Poetry

Edited by Karen A. Waldron, Janice H. Brazil, and Laura M. Labatt

Publication Year: 2007

This unique collection of narratives, essays, and poems includes an original interview with Maya Angelou and pieces by Naomi Shihab Nye, Pat Mora, Rosemary Catacalos, and many others. Each work relates how women have demonstrated courage by taking a risk that has changed their lives. The Introduction explores courage not as a battlefield quality, but as the result of thoughtful choices demonstrating integrity and self-awareness. Each section opens with a description of its organization and the significance of individual pieces. Themes include sustenance for living, faith in the unknown, the courage of choice, the seams of our lives, and crossing borders. The book begins with a conversation with Dr. Maya Angelou, the embodiment of a courageous woman. She urges readers to "Envision" and concludes the book with the wish "Good morning," inviting all to join her in a new day reflecting "The Power of One." Voices of racial and ethnic diversity speak throughout the work, underscoring both difference and unity in the female experience. Including role models for university audiences and powerful reflections of life experiences for older readers, this work serves many purposes: a textbook in Literature or Women's/Gender Studies classes, a focus for book study groups, and a source for providing perspective during quiet moments. All net proceeds from book sales will go to the WINGS nonprofit organization, recipient of Oprah's Angel Network award, providing uninsured women with free breast cancer surgery, radiation, counseling, and follow-up treatments such as chemotherapy. "I wish women could see themselves free. Just see and imagine what they could do if they were free of the national and international history of diminishment. Just imagine, if we could have a Madame Curie born in the nineteenth century, suppose that twenty other women had been liberated at the same time? That's what I wish for women: See it. Try to see yourself free. What would you do?"--from "Sources of Courage: An Interview with Dr. Maya Angelou"

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

A collaborative manuscript of thirty-seven authors and eighty-one pieces of prose and poetry requires not only the involvement of many talented and dedicated writers, but their cooperative effort toward a final goal. The book began with deep respect for the courage and risk-taking of so many women and concluded with a work that let them tell of their individual...

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Strong Women

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pp. xv-xvi

Some women hold me when I need to dream, rock, rocked my first red anger through the night. Strong women teach me courage to esteem, to stand alone, like cactus, persevere when cold frowns bite my bones and doubts incite. Some women hold me when I need to dream...

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women involved in nurturing, giving, and sharing (WINGS)

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pp. xvii-xx

All net proceeds from this book will be donated to the wings foundation, to provide critical treatment services for women diagnosed with breast cancer. wings was formed to fill the vacuum that exists between detection and medical attention for uninsured women. It works to fund the treatment for those whose mammograms indicate anomalies. It provides diagnostic testing, surgery, chemotherapy expenses, as well as services not traditionally offered...

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pp. 1-20

The genesis of this book came from years of observing women who grew beyond political correctness to take amazing risks as a matter of course or necessity, resulting in extraordinary outcomes. Through personal choice or life situations, they made courageous decisions to stand fast or to risk pushing ahead into the unknown. Some were quietly steadfast while others were directly confrontational...

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Sources of Courage: an interview with Maya Angelou

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pp. 21-24

She knew poverty and racism intimately as a child in Stamps, Arkansas, hiding her “crippled Uncle Willie” under sacks of onions in a truck to escape his lynching by “The Boys.” A brutal sexual assault at age eight, with her attacker beaten to death afterwards, sent her into silence for years as she feared the power of her own words. Yet, Maya Angelou learned that words were the way to set herself free. Encouraged by “Mama,” her grandmother who knew that this voiceless child would become a great teacher...

Sustenance for Living

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sustenance for living

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pp. 27-29

We are reminded of the very sustenance of our being in the birth of this Navajo child, who “kicked tiny brown limbs. / Fierce movements as outside / the mist lifted as the sun is born again.” With her spirit connected to the emotional and physical world, we evidence the intricate part of the self that finds the substance to thrive. In this chapter, writers gain courage from their own “morning strength.” We begin with the elderly to show how this connectedness with life’s nourishment can span the ages...

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one moment on top of the earth

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pp. 30-32

In February she was dying again, so he flew across the sea to be with her. Doctors came to the village. They listened and tapped and shook their heads. She’s a hundred and five, they said. What can we do? She’s leaving now. This is how some act when they’re leaving...

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pp. 33

She scrubbed as hard as she could with a stone. Dipping the cloth, twisting the cloth. She knew the cloth much better than most, having stitched its vines of delicate birds. The red, the blue, the purple beaks. A tiny bird with head held high. A second bird with fanning wings. Her fingers felt the folded hem...

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pp. 34-35

The old woman face lined, hair thin and wispy, fingers knarled, bent by arthritis, back stooped ever so slightly, looks up from her plate and asks, Care for another piece of pie?...

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the face that

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pp. 36

She didn’t launch anything. Only herself, when she left Menelaus, snoring, every couple of weeks grabbing her, poking a jagged fingernail, stinking ale. Always she had known, from her swan-feather youth, she herself made only half a broken egg...

down the dublin road

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pp. 37-38

standing ground

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pp. 39

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walking home

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pp. 40-49

One sunny morning in August two decades ago, I stood at a trailhead in northwest Wyoming’s Absaroka Mountains. A green backpack towered over my head, stuffed with food, clothing, compact stove, sleeping bag, tent, and other essentials. Sadie, a German Short-haired Pointer, sat next to me, her dog packs strapped on, quivering...

garden of isabel

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pp. 50

el jardín de isabel

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pp. 51

unlike cain angel-like

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pp. 52-56

in the language of silence

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pp. 57-58

that every child who wants might learn to dance

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pp. 59-66

art for the sake of the soul

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pp. 67-74

faith in the unknown

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faith in the unknown

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pp. 77-78

Daini reflected, “True faith is to follow the tiniest light in the deepest of dark, trusting that it will guide you to safety.” For some, faith is an assurance that things will work out, even during the worst of times. For others, it is a religious belief, or perhaps a spiritual awakening, that carries them through their daily encounters and experiences...

the soul’s source

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pp. 79-80

la diosa

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pp. 81-88

ithaca, on the landing

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pp. 89-91

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risks and challenges: facing the unknown

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pp. 92-94

Although I never thought of myself as a risk-taker, a friend once said that when I married and moved to a foreign country, I was taking a risk. Years later that same person would have the opportunity to tell me that I had a “baptism by fire” in learning how to face challenges head on. But I’m jumping...

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hints from a cancer victor

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pp. 95-101

I am not a cancer survivor—I am a cancer victor. It wasn’t enough for me to survive cancer. I wanted to triumph over it. In my mind, there was very little doubt that I could do it. You see, I have been blessed in my life and bad things do not happen to me. This strength and self-assurance were instilled in me from birth. As an infant I was adopted...

hoops of fire

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pp. 102

why wait?

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pp. 103-104

the tiger

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pp. 105-106

red dirt road

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pp. 107

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of birth-mother and daughter

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pp. 108-112

When Karen Waldron first approached me about this essay, she asked me to write about the adoption of our daughter. As I considered the assignment on and off over the following weeks, I realized that in adopting a child, I had shown very little courage and taken few risks. Yet, two others had shown tremendous courage...

the courage of choice

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the courage of choice

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pp. 115-117

As we hear from our authors’ voices, courage has a cacophony of sounds. While not bold in its immediacy, the courage to choose a path or action may demonstrate a considered willingness to move forth despite one’s fears. Many of these authors considered their decisions carefully and over time before acting. In accepting...

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fire walk

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pp. 118-123

The greatest risk of all is life itself. From the moment of birth to that of death, human beings are consciously engaged in making choices. We are the only sentient beings endowed with this gift for which we pay the inescapable price of personal responsibility. For example, right now I must make a choice of one experience that represents...

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begin again

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pp. 124-127

When I was in my senior year in college, I told my father I intended to continue for a master’s degree, and he said, “What does a woman need a graduate degree for?” He refused to fill out financial aid applications, and when my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he asked me to help care for her. That’s what I did. I like to think that somewhere in the back of my head I was planning to save up for graduate...

the dark and gray of morning light

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pp. 128

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sacred space, stage setters, and miraclemakers: reflections on courage

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pp. 129-136

I’ve never thought of myself as either a risk-taker or a particularly courageous woman. The word courage was never used much in my family. We used its Spanish translation of coraje only in reference to anger, overlooking its other possible definitions. Courage remained an unspoken reality carried silently in the definite message that...

the club

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pp. 137-138

night is my friend

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pp. 139

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the edge: across borders, over the line,through prison gates

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pp. 140-148

During the civil war in El Salvador, refugees fleeing the death squads arrived in Syracuse seeking sanctuary. In 1992, at the end of the twelve-year war, members of our peace community accompanied one of these refugees back to his home in El Salvador. In the mountains near the Honduras border, the Syracuse-La Estancia...

doshite human rights?

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pp. 149-150

rahab’s scarlet cord

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pp. 151-152

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pp. 153-158

I used to think this story was about Laura, the child, but I was wrong. It’s about the woman who saved her. It’s about Ruth. Ruth was Laura’s maternal aunt. Laura’s mother had a fairly long rap sheet in a file buried among twenty other “priority” files stacked on my desk—theft, welfare fraud, bad checks, prostitution, probation violations, other misdemeanors over a twenty-year period. Having been cared for by Ruth for much of her life, three-year-old Laura...

walking out

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pp. 159-160


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pp. 161-162

seams of our lives

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seams of our lives

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pp. 165-168

Far greater than the tiny seams in sewing are the invisible ones that bind parts of our lives together intricately with those of others. They also appear where different aspects of one’s own life are tied together to form a continuity of life’s cycles. The expansiveness of these pieces forms a rich tapestry. Gail Hosking Gilberg...

traveling words

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pp. 169

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jared found

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pp. 170-175

Now sitting in the darkened living room with the afternoon sun trying to shine through the blinds, she remembered. On the dark blue rug she saw a shaft of light, almost silver in the dusk. And she recalled that day when she was a little girl, still in pigtails, and her father had brought home the piece of quicksilver. There she had stood, her square hand sweating with excitement, holding the shimmering object. In its...

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the pinochle game

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pp. 176-182

The snow had been falling for several hours. The fine white powder covered the cars, the sidewalks, clung to the few trees in the garden below, and accumulated on the hats and coats of the people hurrying across the busy intersection. Under the streetlight it looked as if black pellets were shooting—machine gun-like in all directions. The delicate white matter slipped over the city like...

false prophet

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pp. 183

purple passion

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pp. 184

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pp. 185-194

The phone rings. I’ve just come through the door hot and tired from an eight-hour remedial driving class called stop, an option for speeders like me. The other option is a ticket and a huge fine. This one is a fifty-dollar fine, no points deducted, no ticket, and only a full day of writing lost. (My younger son Aaron, who is transsexual and lives across...

facing masks

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pp. 195-197

now where are you?

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pp. 198-199

two aisles

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pp. 200

final touches

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pp. 201-203

judgment of dissolution—found poem

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pp. 204-205

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belfast: a woman’s story

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pp. 206-211

Risk and courage confront women every day in ways never experienced by men. In the rearing of children women become multi-faceted, while men generally live lives tackling one task and achieving one goal at a time. Men, not fragmented by the daily grind of bringing up children, are able to focus on their careers and are not easily distracted. In their lives, both genders take risks and display courage...

her way

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pp. 212-213

the real self

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the real self

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pp. 217-219

Eric Liddell, the famed Scottish missionary and runner, equated faith to running a race, reflecting that the power to see the race to its end comes from within. Indeed, our greatest potential and confidence may emerge from putting one foot forward at a time to take life’s risks. In the following essays and poems, we...

when i am asked

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pp. 220

enroute from japan

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pp. 221

two warriors

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pp. 222-225

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the clearwater

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pp. 226-237

I take the river a step at a time. My feet slide from the shoulders of rock; my toes wedge between boulders. I am timid about this, moving out toward the center, where the water is deepest, where the big fish might lie. Here, at Lenore, Idaho, the Clearwater is not easy. Too wide to cast from shore, too swift, too pocked with hidden currents and sudden holes. I go at it anyway, still without waders...

doña feliciana

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pp. 238-239


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pp. 240

swallow wings

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pp. 241

my heart beats for you

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pp. 242-244

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a heart to run

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pp. 245-247

We had just finished an 8-mile run along the Town Lake Hike and Bike trail in Austin. All of us, novice marathoners, were tired, but exhilarated. I decided on my fortieth birthday, January 15, 1999, that I would train for a marathon as a challenge to myself. I joined the Leukemia Society’s challenge, sure that running for a good cause would keep me interested, and running with a group would keep me motivated...


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pp. 248-249


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pp. 250-251

lilith whispers

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pp. 252-253

judith mourns

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pp. 254-255

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dancing on the edge of the ledge

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pp. 256-259

No one ever said that risk-taking was easy. I discovered that for myself when my marriage of sixteen years came to an end. I was left alone to raise three little girls, one of whom was just three weeks old. Knowing that I was responsible for their future well-being sometimes overwhelmed me, even though I had two degrees and freelanced...

no position is a position

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pp. 260-261

unlearning not to speak

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pp. 262-263

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confessions of a compulsive overachiever

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pp. 264-270

I’m such a compulsive overachiever that I tell my family and friends to make sure I’m pointed in a safe direction. Earnest and well intentioned, I can rally a crowd or whip up a controversy in a heartbeat—disasters when I’m even slightly off target. You know the type: high school student council secretary, college class officer...

crossing borders

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crossing borders

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pp. 273-276

Despite Robert Frost’s admonition concerning unthinking acceptance of “Good fences make good neighbors,” as humans we have continued to create countless borders, often assuming their necessity. Some are political, others physical or religious. This chapter deals with obliterating the personal boundaries that restrict the development of our real selves as well as those that keep us from reaching out and being part of...

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ruth marantz cohen: une vie exceptionelle

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pp. 277-280

This is an essay about my mother, Ruth Marantz Cohen, who risked being different during an era of enormous conformity. Her risks made the risks I’ve taken in my own life easier. She was my role model and inspiration. My mother was born in 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents, Gertrude and Sam, were Russian immigrants, Jews who came to New York during the time of the Soviet pogroms. Like many only children, Ruth was brought up to adore her parents, and to...

the telling of it

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pp. 281-286

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conversion: the trail of a resident alien

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pp. 287-293

I’m afraid my ancestors would roll over in their graves at the thought of my conversion. My great-great-great grandmother, Mary Sophia Ramsey, who never played cards on Sunday and donated a stained glass window for the Dutch Reformed Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey, would think my children heathens. So would...

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we who believe in freedom

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pp. 294-298

On a winter day in 1990, Mae Bertha Carter and Winson Hudson, both from Mississippi, were visiting me in Charlottesville, Virginia. They were to speak that morning at the University of Virginia in Julian Bond’s class on the civil rights movement. I was there with a year’s post-doctoral fellowship at the Carter Woodson Institute...

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turbulent odyssey for justice*

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pp. 299-305

“And do you declare yourself a pauper?” asked the judge in Rochester, New York. I nodded. My lawyer directed, “You must answer verbally for the record.” “Yes,” I whispered in a faltering voice filled with shame, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment. We had no money to pay for the printing of court briefs. And so my sex discrimination...

dancing in the dark

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pp. 306-307


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pp. 308

learning english: chorus in many voices

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pp. 309-310

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sharecropper’s daughter

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pp. 312-320

There were worse things than being a white sharecropper’s daughter in the 1930s and ’40s. But at the time I didn’t think so. I didn’t compare myself to people in the same economic class as I was. I compared myself to landowners’ daughters who seemed to have everything: new, store-bought dresses; more than one pair of shoes at a time; their own rooms at home; white, manicured hands; and popularity among...


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pp. 321

her place

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pp. 322

no traveler

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pp. 323-324

stone house

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pp. 325-326

elegy for an angel

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pp. 327

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next year in jerusalem

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pp. 328-341

I have never been so hated and terrified in all my life. As I walked alone into the Baghdad conference center, six enraged women approached me, one with her fist raised, others with voices shouting unfamiliar languages. A striking, darkskinned woman grabbed my sleeve and yanked me close to her face. “Our country is poor, our people starve, and you look away,” she hissed. Another pushed her...

on the pulse of morning

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pp. 342-345

contributors’ biographies

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pp. 347-361

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413861
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412338

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- Women authors.
  • Women -- Literary collections.
  • Courage -- Literary collections.
  • Risk-taking (Psychology) -- Literary collections.
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