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On Accessibility

This is the first blog entry in an ongoing collaboration of divergent voices—musings of LLA board members, writers, and devout readers. Being the first entry provokes a bit of anxiety and a lot of cliché: I feel pressured to jump in with both feet, set the bar high, and reach for the stars. Fortunately, as blogs and Judgment Day go, the first shall be last. The blogs that follow will push my lofty words to the bottom of the Web scroll.

I choose to write about the topic of “accessibility, “ a concept I have argued for and against these last 15 years of writing nonfiction for various venues (including a 10-year stint for a local short form women’s magazine easily found in waiting rooms across the city.)

Let me share a bit of exposition. In a workshop, while studying for my MFA, a writing colleague attempted a polite critique. “Your writing . . . it’s . . . well . . . so accessible.” You might think that being understood is commendable. Alas, in the literary world, “you are SO accessible,” is similar to the sentiment conveyed when a kindly southern lady says, “Well, bless her heart!”

Fearing my membership to The Literary Club would be forever denied, I worked ardently to become less accessible. I ramped up vivid description, played with structure and chronology, verb tense and syntax.

Recently, I attended another workshop—this one led by a famous essayist, and attended by sixteen groupies. Writers are slow learners. We go to workshops repeatedly, always hoping for praise, and often receiving something different.

“You have a lyrical gift,” the famous essayist said. But . . . there are problems with chronology and verb tense. Structure requires too much thought from your audience. And you arrive too easily at epiphany. I had wanted to proclaim, “That lyricism is not a gift; it’s what I’ve been working on all these years!”

On the definition of “accessible,” etymologists agree: It is a space easily reached and understood without special knowledge. It is a space that is easy to enter. Welcome, epiphany.

I do not wish to be ordinary, as a human or a writer; neither do I want my effort at inventiveness to separate me from the reader. There is comfort in the idea that accessibility is something a reader may enter easily. I do not have to be simple. I can play with language while maintaining respect for my reader. As the wonderful accessible New Yorker essayist EB White once said, “Be obscure clearly.”

Once, on a food writing assignment, a chef told me, “If you put love in the cooking, your guests will taste the love.” I view my writing and Louisville Literary Arts like meals prepared carefully but with pleasure— dynamic and enriching, inventive but accessible.

The LLA audience is a diverse mix of readers, professional writers, and aspirational writers. We hope you will feel the invitation to celebrate language with us at the InKY Readings and the Writer’s Block Festival. We want you to accept our invitations to ENTER easily into readings and programs about the writing craft. We hope you’ll be glad you came.

Kimberly Crum cooks up her nonfiction and teaches writing at her studio, Shape & Flow Writing Services, at Mellwood Art & Entertainment Center in Louisville. For information and her blog, go to Kim is president of the LLA Board of Directors.

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