In Honor of All Saints! Discovering a New Voice at Midlife

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Feathers and Trumpets

A post by writer Joyce Ray, posted especially in honor of All Saints Day:

As women in midlife, we’ve all found our voice, haven’t we?

Or do we have different voices at various stages of our lives?

In the 1980s, Carol Gilligan’s well-known research on girls’ development (In a Different Voice) showed us that many girls, while vocal in early life, undergo more than physical changes during puberty.

Socially, they learn to quiet their voices.

For some, it’s a long journey back to asserting them.

The protagonist of my forthcoming early YA historical novel, Hildegard of Bingen, was the 12th century’s strongest female voice.

Most women had no voice at all back then. But Hildegard risked heresy at age 42 to talk about visions that had troubled her since childhood.

Since 2012, she’s become a saint and a Doctor of the Church.  Not bad for a quiet girl.

In my twenties, I began to develop my teacher voice, soon to be followed by a mother’s voice, maybe not that much different.

In my fifties, my mentors and colleagues at the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults Program teased out and encouraged my writing voice.

I was floundering in the world of picture book manuscripts, meaning I wasn’t having much success.

Then Hildegard rescued me and tapped me to write her story.

I was struck by this mid-life voice discovery that we shared. In addition to her theological works, Hildegard went on to write medical and scientific books, a morality play, and song lyrics and even preach public sermons!

I am not so prolific and even struggled with my developing voice.

At first, I kept close to the historical facts, not wanting to stray from the “truth” as my sources told it, which is what a biographer does.

When I wrote fictional scenes to discover my character on a personal level, I found myself transitioning from well-researched non-fiction to fiction.

However, it was a challenge for me to let go of the facts and imagine Hildegard at different stages of her feminine and religious journey. I had to trust that the research I had done would be the scaffold that supported my story.

It takes time to develop one’s voice, sometimes half a lifetime.

Once Hildegard felt free to write, she wrote a whole lot about women’s sexuality. A competent herbalist, she made it her business to know how to help women at every stage of their lives.

Read more about Hildegard on this site, Saints.SQPN.com

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Read more about Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen, coming in March from Apprentice Shop Books at  www.joyceraybooks.com

 Joyce

Joyce Ray is a graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. Her forthcoming early YA novel, Feathers and Trumpets, A Story of Hildegard of Bingen (Apprentice Shop Books, spring, 2014), is an intriguing look at this dynamic woman of the Middle Ages. Joyce is co-author, with Andrea Murphy and other contributors, of a new title in the America’s Notable Women Series – Women of the Pine Tree State, 25 Maine Women You Should Know. The following series’ titles also contain short biographies written by Joyce: Women of the Golden State, Women of the Empire State and Women of the Prairie State.

Joyce lives in Maine and New Hampshire, contributes to Poetry Friday and reviews books on her blog Musings at http://www.joyceray.blogspot.com

11 responses »

  1. So glad to read about this amazing woman, and that Joyce Ray is bringing history back to life for young readers. I’ve heard for years that biography can be critically important to middle school students and that it was sadly lacking in school libraries.

  2. Agreed! Biographies are so important to read. This book, I believe, could span the ages for girls and women alike. Finding one’s voice even today is definitely not easy, but I can only imagine what it was like centuries ago. I look forward to reading this book! Thank you, Barbara for introducing us to another splendid author! I’m going to click on and scroll around to learn more about Ms Ray now… 😉

  3. Thank you, Barbara, for inviting me to highlight Hildegard in this forum focused on issues important to women. What a perfect day to post! Saint Hildegard is pleased, I’m sure.

    I appreciate the comments by your readers and wholeheartedly agree that history comes alive for young readers, or any of us, through well-written biographical accounts. I hope Hildegard’s story encourages young women to persevere in discovering their unique voices.

  4. Joyce, thanks for sharing your thoughts about voice in midlife. I also attended VCFA in my 50s, and one of the best things about it was learning to express my voice. Your book looks very interesting–congratulations!

    • Margaret, it’s nice to meet you here! VCFA certainly nurtures writing from the heart and the idea that both writers and readers can make meaning from this type of writing.

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