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Juniata College Unlocks Its Voice

(Posted November 3, 2000)

"If you?re a woman who wants to get more out of life, don?t bury your talents under a mountain of dishes. Writing will provide a wonderful means of emotional release and self-expression. I started writing because I knew that if I didn?t laugh a little at myself, then I would surely cry."(Erma Bombeck)

Erma Bombeck wrote her first book, At Wit?s End, in 1965, a time when women writers were greatly looked down upon. "How could women be writers?" was the general attitude. Their writings are too trivial, too childish, and too domestic. How could women ever be expected to contribute anything profound?

The Juniata College "Unlock Your Voice" program, performed by the members of the Women and Literature class, was created to prove them wrong?and to bring a lively and entertaining event to the community. The year 2000 "Unlock Your Voice" program takes place at 8:00 p.m., Friday, Nov. 10 in the Ballroom at the Ellis College Center on the Juniata campus. The program is free and all are invited to attend.

"Unlock Your Voice" is a program of dramatic readings. Students choose works by their favorite women writers and bring them to the public through this program. The program was designed to make the community aware of the rich contributions by female writers.

Judy Katz, associate professor of English, who conducts the Women and Literature class, pointed out how attitudes about women writers back in the sixties had a large influence on her decision to develop not only the program, but also the class itself.

"When I was in college," she noted, "one of my professors told my class that women couldn?t be great writers because their subject matter was too domestic and therefore trivial. That?s why it was so important to me to develop this course, and to offer it every year. Students need to be introduced to literature and to a new way of thinking about women?s contributions to our literary heritage."

According to Dr. Katz, it is rare that writers like Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Bronte, and Toni Morrison are put on the same pedestal as William Shakespeare, Charles

Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway. Women writers are still often ignored in literature courses. The Women and Literature course at Juniata is designed to change that.

The course, as well as the public program originated in the spring of 1994. According to Dr. Katz, the program was entirely produced by students. "The students not only suggested that we do something to celebrate Women?s History Month, but they took charge, and did everything that needed to be done: programming, publicity, articles and flyers, rehearsals. It was their commitment as much as mine."

"I love to see the different things that people have chosen to read," said Dr. Katz. "Some of them are works I?ve never read before; we all experience such a wide variety. Just to be there, as an audience member, is special. I see how creative the class is in what they end up putting together. I don?t want to influence them too much; it is their program. Variety, choices, energy . . . the students have it all."

The students who organized the first program in 1994 came up with the title "Unlock Your Voice." "The title reminds us that women have often been forced to be silent, and prevented from speaking their minds. Unlocking the voice is an act of escaping from a prison," said Dr. Katz.

Megan Brown, a junior from Princeton Junction N.J., explained why participating in this event is important to her. "I am taking the Women in Literature because there is an under-representation of women in most of the literature classes that exist here. It gives a perspective on the writings of women that I wouldn't have been introduced to. I am participating in Unlock Your Voice because there is even more literature, written by women, that many people never read. It is an opportunity for women to read their own work, and for people to find new perspectives and experiences."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.