Can you guess from the words I write on a page what I am? You don’t know the shape of my smile, only that there is one. You might be able to guess at my personality, but what if that’s a facade, a creation, an invention? What do you have then? Keep guessing.
Today, a professor asked, as part of the introduction to the course, a research seminar dealing with race, ethnicity, and identity, what are you? Write down ten things describing what you are, or who you are. I found myself wanting to write down much more, but none of my words nailed down my external. I have no idea what other people wrote, but what does first comes to mind, when you’re asked to describe yourself or someone else? Do you say gender, height, eye color, hair style? Do you say female, twenty-something, brunette, fair-skinned?
Here’s my list:
– constantly amused
Is knowing that I am female significant to reading my poems about coffee? Does knowing I am a brunette change the way you read my poems about the ocean? No should have been the answer. But then how do you define an author, to help the reading of their work?
When I read something, I don’t like knowing things–anything–about the author. In fact, I prefer knowing nothing and meeting the speaking persona of the piece bit by bit. It’s largely more exciting to read and learn the characters and their personalities and assuming they are pure invention. There are no preconceived notions to cloud my judgement. Any assumptions about what’s being written and why is wholly caused by the work, and not what someone tells me about its creator. The piece can speak for itself, and the author speaks through that piece, but their history, who they are, or what they are, can stand aside, and either come through the work or not.
A pen name exists not completely to protect the author, but to protect the integrity of the work. If you read the title The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, you can decide for yourself whether or not to read the work, but if you read the name Mark Twain attached to it, or his backstory, you will walk into the book with assumptions of how to read it. I would rather attach no name to works, to let their power work over me, and their integrity speak for themselves; rather than let what someone else tells me about such and such author decide how I will interpret a work, before I even read a word.
Knowing what I am could be important, but it’s my duty as the author, the writer, the inventor, to decide whether or not that information is crucial for interpretation. If it’s necessary, I will ensure that you know it; otherwise, that information is insignificant for answering potentially thought provoking questions. So what are you? And does it matter?