When I first started reading A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal-Writing Journey by Marlene A. Schiwy (Simon and Schuster: New York, 1996), 1 felt that I was going over old ground, that everything she was saying had been said twenty years ago.
But as I continued reading, I changed my mind. Yes, the issues were the feminist issues raised earlier, but the author was dealing with them in a way that made me want to read on. The book is very supportive, personal and warm, both in the authorial voice and in the voices of the many journal writers Schiwy quotes-well-known ones like May Sarton, Audre Lorde, and Virginia Woolf as well as lesser known or unknown diarists.
The book is organized into three parts: embarking, The Inner Journal, and Sharing the journey, but, I think, as Schiwy notes in the Foreword, that the reader can start anyplace. I would suggest using her Index to begin, e.g., "on rereading old diaries," "loss of a child" .on the creative process," "impostor syndrome." The apparatus of the book, in addition to the index, is useful: writing topics, endnotes, and an excellent bibliography of published journals.
Although Schiwy writes from a feminist perspec-tive, she is not polemical but universal as feminism actually is. Her thesis is that journal writing is a tool which enables us to discover our hidden selves and to affirm the value of our lives.
But this isn't all. A journal becomes a friend, a confidante. Besides the value of writing a journal, there is pleasure in reading journals. This insight highlights something unique and universally true about the experience of reading journals; as we read, the present tense and the first person pronoun invite us to enter into and identify with the diarist's feelings and thoughts. We become immersed in her inner world, perhaps more so than while reading fiction. And yet, another part of us remains outside all the while. The mom critical part is constantly in dialogue with the diarist, noting where our perspectives converge and differ (264).
While reading, I began examining my own life. I was particularly interested in the sections on change and loneliness, and the journal excerpts made me think of the many changes in my life in the past four years and the stress associated with them. Although I had kept a journal for ten years, I had abandoned it after my life became more "stable." The changes of marriage, moving to a new city, not working, loneli-ness, illness, grief for the death of a cherished animal have "destablized" me. Schiwy includes these con-cerns and many more with relevant journal excerpts and writing topics and techniques. This book has motivated me and directed me to use my inner resources for strength.
Leonore Hoffmann Walters is a Professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY. She commutes between New York and Chicago where her husband and cat live. From 1976-1979, she directed the regional women's literature project for the Modern Language Association.
© 1996, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Walters, Leonore Hoffmann. (1996). "Book Review of A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal-Writing Journey." WILLA, Volume V, 20-21.