“Dear Abby, How can I
get rid of freckles?” was my first attempt at writing for publication.
I wasn’t trying to be a published writer, at the age of eleven,
when I wrote it; I just wanted an answer to my question. Although
I seem to recall an answer—having something to do with a lemon—I
can’t be sure because I also know that I had a vivid imagination
and I didn’t read the newspaper then. Whether my letter to Abby
was published or not doesn’t matter as much as the fact that
I understood the power of writing, even at that young age.
My first attempt at writing
for payment was more conscious, and, in between it and my Dear
Abby letter, I had many letters to the editor that were published
and several self-made booklets of my poetry in print. I was
a young full-time mother at the time and an avid reader of Mothering
Magazine. After reading some of the writing in Mothering, I
said to myself, “I can do that.” I remember studying an article
in the TV guide, which happened to be lying around my house,
before beginning to write, to see how to construct sentences,
where to put commas and such.
I come from a long line
of working class, non-intellectuals who were self-taught. On
my father’s side, there are indications that writing is in my
genes. I have a poem in newsprint that my Grandmother from Ireland
wrote, and a published piece of music with lyrics by Grandfather.
When reading “How the Irish Saved Civilization” a few years
back, I was struck by how the common Irish, who were hired by
monks to hand copy the classics, wrote little poems and ditties
(often about how boring their task was) in the margins of their
work. “Those were my ancestors,” I thought. It’s no wonder I
consider myself a folk writer.
Although my natural inclination
for writing may have come from my father’s Irish heritage, I
suspect that my mother’s heritage had an influence on me too.
Her lineage is largely one of self-sufficient Lutheran carpenters
of German descent, and carpentry and writing have a lot in common.
Once you learn the basic skills of construction, whether you’re
writing an article or building a home, the rest is about problem
solving and working in changes as seamlessly as possible. A
good eye for detail also helps.
That first article I sent
to Mothering was published! Getting paid for it was a bonus;
I was really just trying to win a free subscription because
I loved the magazine and couldn’t afford to buy one. And that
article led to others. It gave me my first small taste of success
and laid the groundwork for my writing education.
After a good run getting
published in Mothering and other similar publications, I got
involved with the Museletter, a local community newsletter that
I have co-edited for over 15 years. The Museletter has been
an invaluable forum of correspondence for practicing my writing
skills within the safety of a supportive, small folk-life community.
In the early days I wrote a monthly home schooling column, but
the Museletter readers probably remember me more for my poetry.
The controversial dangers of immunizations, silver mercury fillings,
and low level electro-magnetic fields…nutrition, natural healing,
woman’s rituals, and environmental issues are some of the topics
I have written about in the Museletter over the years.
Back in the days before
email, I was a prolific letter writer, which turned out to be
an important aspect of my self-education as a writer. I remember
reading a book by home schooling pioneer, John Holt, in which
he revealed that the bulk of his books were taken from his personal
correspondences. That made sense to me. More recently my “letters
to the editors” have evolved into commentaries that have been
published by The Roanoke Times newspaper and online publications,
such as Commondreams.com. My commentaries are almost always
born from email dialogues with family and friends, or from my
The Museletter was not
the first newsletter I have been associated with, and it hasn’t
been the last. In the early 80s I helped a friend launch a cesarean
prevention newsletter called The Mainstay. She did most of the
work. For me, it was a learning experience. I can still remember
how impressed I was that she could spell words like “necessary”
During the first Gulf
War, my friend, writer and activist Alwyn Moss, and I started
a publication called “The Bell: A Call to Peace.” Some of the
commentaries we wrote during The Bell’s several year run included,
“It Tolls for Thee,” “How Many Parades?” “Blessed are the Peacemakers,”
and “We Arm the World.” We also published a calendar of events,
letters, and interviews. We frequently used writings and drawings
from children, as Alwyn was a former Waldorf kindergarten teacher
and I was teaching a creative writing class at the Blue Mountain
School, a parent-run cooperative school that my children went
to (which brings me to yet another newsletter, the one I did
with the Blue Mountain School students called The Dolphin Messenger).
has appeared locally in a number of publications, such as Katuah,
Appalachian Voices, Expressions, and Appalachian Woman’s Journal.
In the year 2000, I was hired by a local art magazine, to interview
Ruby Altizer Roberts, the first woman Poet Laureate of Virginia
in 1950, who, at the time of our interview, was in her 90s.
The results of our interview, “A Lifetime of Poetry,” appeared
in Expressions magazine in the January – March issue and was
a project I was especially grateful to have had the opportunity
I think it was also in
the year 2000, when I received an honorarium check of $150 dollars
from the Wemoon Journal for my consistent poetic contributions
to their international publication over the years. This was
on top of already being paid for the poems (and winning those
free copies). It was a powerful expression of validation and
another stepping stone in the journey to my next writing project.
The deaths of my brothers
in 2001 rocked my world, and as far as writing goes, it was
like all the fragments of my experience came to one point, resulting
in my first book, “The Jim and Dan Stories.” My writings are
never hypothetical or abstract but are a direct result of what
I’m involved in. Writing has always been the process by which
I synthesize what I am learning at the time.
I was raised on jump rope songs and the songs from the 40s that
my father taught me. These were some of the early influences
that contributed to my love of language, rhythm, and word play.
I would also include catechism prayers, nursery rhymes, Motown,
and Bob Dylan on that list. My writing education has been un-orthodox,
and at times has seemed accidental (or incidental), because
writing has never been removed from the rest of my life. All
aspects of my life have served to inform me.
I like to write author’s
bio-notes (even before anyone asked for one) in the same way
I like to create answering machine messages. I realize that
this bio-note is more than a note, but if I had to condense
it into one sentence, which I recently did for Wemoon, I would
probably say this: I keep a dictionary in the backseat of my
car and a kaleidoscope in my glove compartment. What else do
you need to know?
Colleen Redman - July 2003