By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
“Education is the key to equality for women,” said Karen Dennis, chair of the American Association of University Women’s 27th annual literary lunch held last Saturday. No one disagreed.
Year after year the local AAUW showcases women authors to support their mission to empower women and girls through education. The slate never fails to inspire the audience of an event that funds elementary school tutoring and science and math camp for middle school girls, among other programs.
Silent auctions and stellar venue aside, the event’s success owes much to a line-up of speakers who always manage to convince their listeners that they, too, have the power to change lives simply by connecting with others and sharing what they know.
Mina Javaherbin, the Iranian-born architect-turned-writer, describes herself as a storyteller who hopes to bring cultures together and promote peace by encouraging communication. “I want to connect with people,” she said. Visiting classrooms, she challenges students to talk to the kids they think are most unlike them and to try to find common ground. Invariably, they do.
Making connections provided the lunch’s theme, a thread pulled by each speaker in different ways.
Megan Doherty connected with the disenfranchised, bringing creative writing workshops to homeless shelters in Southern California.
In her first book, “Transitive Woman,” a creative non-fiction memoir, Doherty, a poet, technical writer and peace activist, uses prose and poetry to evoke a woman’s journey through life and relationships, and older and younger versions of herself.
Dora Levy Mossanen surmounted both internal and external cultural barriers through writing. Born in Israel, she moved to Iran at age 9 and then fled with her family to the United States as the Islamic Revolution took hold.
The best-selling author of historical romance novels, including “Harem,” Mossanen admitted that the hardest to write was also the most rewarding. Just-published “Scent of Butterflies,” was inspired by her first husband’s bitter betrayal, culturally accepted in the Persian community while a subsequent divorce was not. But the 20 years she spent cultivating this very personal fiction of betrayal and revenge, “ended up healing me and making me whole again,” she said.
Actress, mother and now memoirist Wendy Lawless offered another story of survival that connected her to other lives when she discovered writing as a creative outlet.
Lawless, from a family of actors, stopped looking for new roles when she married and assumed the lifelong role as mother to her son and daughter. If performing was her first act and motherhood her second, as her kids grew up she looked for a third. She started writing “about being a mom, and about being a mom who was raised by a mom who was nuts.”
Her memoir, “Chanel Bonfire”, is the story of Lawless and her sister Robin “trying to survive our alcoholic, gold-digging, fashionista mom,” said the author. They lived in dwellings as diverse as Park Avenue apartments and trailer parks as their fortunes rose and fell and their mother chased glamour and beaux.
Little did she realize how much her story would resonate with others. She said that accolades such as the New York Times’ bestseller list and four stars from People magazine paled next to the thrill of the countless people who tell her “Chanel Bonfire” made them feel less alone. “That’s been very gratifying,” she said.
Javaherbin, too, finds a well-spring of ideas in connecting with others. As a child of 7 in Iran, she was dismayed to learn about the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. “You can help change it,” she recalled her father telling her.
After moving to the United States and writing children’s books, she received a letter from Archbishop Desmond Tutu describing her first book, “Goal,” set in South Africa and translated into 11 languages, as “uplifting and inspiring.”
“Our multiculturalism is what makes us who we are and connects us to people,” said Javaherbin, noting that social media allows reaching across the globe “by the click of a button.”