LITERARY INFLUENCES: Sheree Mack | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Sheree Mack is a freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction based in the North East. Currently finishing her time as 2014’s Jessie Kesson Fellow, Mack has worked extensively with organisations across the region, developing creative partnerships. She has worked with NorthLight Arts, Tyne and Wear Museums and Archives Services, Durham Literature Festival and New Writing North, just to name a few. Her time with these groups has meant that she has worked with a wide variety of people, from womens’ groups and refugees to young people and young offenders. You can read some of her original poetry and fiction at her official website.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

the bluest eyeGrowing up in the 80s, I was hooked on the type of teenage fiction that involved a boy meeting a girl, such as Sweet Valley High and the Sweet Dreams books. I always identified with the white heroine, probably using these books as a means of escape from my black, fat life.

It was in my final year of high school that I found Toni Morrison’s novels, in particular The Bluest Eye. Using a young girl, Pecola Breedlove, as the main character, Morrison aims to explore the damage that internalised racism can do to the most vulnerable members of a community. Pecola longs to be seen and loved but is neglected because her parents struggle to love themselves. Pecola feels that if she was white, blond and blue eyed, like the Mary Jane sweets she buys, then she would be loved. She longs to be white, as she sees within her society that being white is valued while being black, you are treated as nothing.

I always identified with the white heroine, probably using these books as a means of escape from my black, fat life

i is a long memoried woman by Grace Nichols

IisALongMemoriedWomanMy next breakthrough moment in regards to identity and voice was while at University in London. I wanted to get as far away as possible from the North East, as I needed to grow up. I also needed to blend in, to feel part of the majority rather than the minority for a change. London offered me that variety of cultures and heritages and was more than a learning experience. It was my personal tutor who introduced me to further black women’s voices in literature, but this time British voices. I did not know that there were women like me writing in the UK, I thought there were only Afro-American women writers. How wrong could I be? I found through guidance Jean “Binta” Breeze, Jay Kay, Joan Riley and Grace Nichols to name but a few. Nichols’ collection i is a long memoried woman was the first collection of poetry I read by a black British woman writer that explored the hidden history of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery through a woman’s voice. There is beauty to be found within this harrowing collection, strength and courage that made me feel proud about my ancestors.

“We the women making
something from this

Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed

wildI had been travelling a lot throughout 2013. I was in Boston twice in one month, together with Brussels and Washington State. I had amazing experiences meeting new people and sharing ideas, but I sure was tired. I remember one day just squirrelling myself away in a coffee shop attached to a Barnes and Nobles bookstore. I just needed time and space to regroup and figure out the next bit of my plans. In that bookstore I picked up Wild by Cheryl Strayed because I like the cover depicting the single walking boot with red laces as well as the unfinished feel and jagged look of the pages within. Before I knew it was had opened the book and started to read about a single woman’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail over 100 days. The PCT is a 2,663 miles long, continuous wilderness trail that runs from the Mexican border in California to just beyond the Canadian border along the crest of nine mountain ranges— the Laguna, San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Liebre, Tehachapi, Sierra Nevada, Klamath, and Cascades. One day, after falling out of her life after the death of her mother, Strayed decided she would walk this trail, covering as much as she could in 100 days. This challenge was something she had never dreamed of doing before, she was no expert but she felt the urge that she needed to do this as a means of finding herself again.

I admire this woman’s resilience and determination to complete this challenge. She had the guts to go out there and just do it. She knew the dangers, knew she could fail and could die in the process but she also saw this as the only way of saving herself from her self-destructing ways. She learnt to keep walking, just keeping moving forward as a means of survival and finding the way back to herself.

The Father by Sharon Olds

The_FatherSharon Olds, an American poet, who after gaining a PhD from Stanford University turned her back on the academy to write the poems she wanted to write. She began to write about her family, abuse, sex, focusing on the writing rather than thinking about the audience, who were going to read it. She was true to her voice, however startling and raw that might be. She claimed the body and celebrates it in all, it’s beauty and ugliness. Reading Olds’ work gave me permission to explore difficult issues within my own writing, such as death, sex, domestic violence, abusive childhood and the black body. Themes I shied away from, not wanting to alienate my reader at the same time as not having the language to explore such subjects. Through Olds tracing her family relationships, I was able to work through my own silence to voice.

Reading Olds’ work gave me permission to explore difficult issues within my own writing, such as death, sex, domestic violence, abusive childhood and the black body

What To Look For In Autumn: A Ladybird Nature Book by E. L. Grant

what-to-look-for-in-autumn-vintage-ladybird-book-nature-series-536-matt-hardback-1971-1556-p[ekm]105x160[ekm]My father taught me how to read from an early age. I remember he’d set up the blackboard in the living room and while teaching my old sister he’d instruct me too in our ABCs. I was the ideal student, excelling in his teaching, getting the letters and then words correct as I always wanted to please him. To feed my growing need for books, my father would take us into town each Saturday to pick out new books from the market and borrow books from the library. I always liked the Ladybird Books because you could learn a lot for a short read. We worked our way through the Peter and Jane reading scheme. On special occasions, we might have received other Ladybird Books on wider subjects such as light, wild animals, weather and the seasons.

I bought all the seasons in the nature series over the last couple of years. My favourite season since a child has been autumn; I love walking on a crisp, cool day and kicking the fallen leaves and hearing them rustle. This book feeds my growing wonder about the natural world that has been lying dormant for so many decades. But recently, my eyes have been opened to the world around us, how we are all connected to the earth, the trees, the animals and the seas. I need to know how the natural world works, go out there and explore, gain confidence and experience of nature in order to write about it authentically.

I never had the chance to explore the countryside when growing up. We lived in inner city Bradford and never had a car. I did not know that just a few miles away was Bronte country with the moors, forests and hedgerows. I am re-educating myself about nature and the environment in which we live because we are losing so much of this earth through our actions. I share my love and care for the natural world to galvanise more people to care about the world we live in. You only care about protecting something if you care about it.

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