"Understand me. What I am here for is to tell you stories you may not want to hear. What I am here for is to rescue my dead. And to scare the hell out of you now and then. I was raised Baptist, I know how to do that." -- Dorothy Allison in her website's introductory disclaimer.Acclaimed author Dorothy Allison, whose fiction often includes dysfunctional families, poverty and oppression, and the dramatic metamorphoses, is a survivor of violence.
Allison, 61, is no stranger to trauma. The first child of an unwed mother, Allison was born into poverty in South Carolina and sexually abused by her stepfather for years. She went on to become the first member of her family to graduate high school, earn a master's degree in urban anthropology from Florida State University, and write several books (among them: National Book Award Finalist Bastard out of Carolina, adapted into a film directed by Anjelica Houston in 1996).
Allison says she's made it her life's work to understand how violence impacts human lives. She will be the keynote speaker at the ASU Trauma Conference, which starts today on the campus of ASU West.
We caught up with Allison after her arrival in Phoenix yesterday.
This is a rather unique event. The thing Monica [Casper, a Humanities professor at ASU] has done that makes me excited is she's done what really hasn't been done before, in that the people on the panels and the speakers are not just academics, but people who've actually experienced trauma.
Your work often deals with issues of class, race, sexuality, family dynamics, and abuse. Why are these important themes in your work?
Yeah, I have issues (laughs). It's hard for me to explain ... I think I'm pushed by violence. Not just in my childhood and the things I experienced then, but my whole life. And it's not just the experience of violence, but our response to it, and the ways it influences our lives.
Your keynote address at the Trauma Conference is titled "A Cure for Bitterness." Can you tell me a little about what you'll be saying in the address?
I want to talk about those of us who can articulate our experiences. I've been looking for a cure for bitterness my whole life, and looking at the way violence works, and how the experience of violence can change you in negative ways. It's like crabs in a bucket - you mess with crabs in a bucket, and they won't want to come out. They become agitated and combative. So finding a way to deal with trauma and violence is my life's work.
The ASU Trauma Conference takes place Thursday, October 7, through Saturday, October 9, at Arizona State University's West campus, 4701 W. Thunderbird Road. Dorothy Allison will deliver the keynote address at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, October 7, in the La Sala Ballroom. The conference is free, but registration is required. For a complete conference program and more information, visit http://traumaconference.newcollege.asu.edu/.