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The Autobiographical Writings of Homeless Women

by Deborah Pugh & Jeanie Tietjen

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1997
ISBN: 0-9647124-2-3

An anthology of homeless women's writings that offers a glimpse of inner lives rarely seen. This collection grew out of the editors' experiences as participants in WritersCorps, a division of AmeriCorps, President Clinton's community service program. WritersCorps offers writers a small stipend and the opportunity to teach at-risk youth, substance abusers, and others whose stories are seldom heard. Pugh and Tietjen, clearly very gifted teachers, ran writing workshops for homeless and incarcerated women in Washington, D.C.; some of the memoirs produced in those workshops are offered here. Despite the hardships she has faced, Georgia's clearest memories, drawn from her rural southern past, are almost idyllic—she remembers, for instance, making pancakes that met with her tough grandfather's approval. Gayle writes about her crack addiction. Ann, who has been diagnosed as manic-depressive, writes of how it felt to be discharged from the US military. Hers is perhaps the most engaging piece, because she writes frankly about her often unnerving behavior. Dionne is the poet whose lyrics provide the anthology's powerful title. She is in prison, HIV-positive, and recovering from drug addiction and sexual abuse. Angie has struggled with both mental illness and physical disability while raising three sons. The women's narratives all provide the solid beginnings of stories, but most leave numerous questions unanswered. The editors realize this, and have tried to fill in the holes with their own lengthy, somewhat intrusive interpretive essays, which add biographical information about the writers; we end up hearing too much of Pugh and Tietjen's voices and not enough of the homeless women's. But despite some awkwardness in presentation, these stories deserve the attention of anyone interested in the power of autobiography to redeem a life.