Countdown to Muse 2019: Impossible Writing by Mary C. Curtis

The Muse and the Marketplace 2019 kicks off on April 5th at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston. This year’s theme is writing in a time of upheaval — whether such upheaval is personal, political, artistic, or all of the above. In anticipation of the conference, we’ve asked Muse 2019 presenting authors to describe a time when it was impossible for them to write, but they wrote anyway. How did they do it? What did they write? Our next presenter in the series is Mary C. Curtis, columnist at Roll Call.

I write columns on the intersection of politics, culture and race – and for an African-American woman, that translates into a life in a constant state of upheaval, especially when political rhetoric can be so racially divisive.

Several years ago, when a Republican communications staffer criticized Malia and Sasha Obama’s dress and demeanor at a White House turkey pardoning – they were treating their father, President Barack Obama, with the eye-rolling dismissal most children reserve for parents – it was personal for me, more than the usual partisan sniping.

She disapprovingly told a then 13-year-old and 16-year-old, attired in the tights and mini-skirts of most teen girls, “Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at the bar,” disrespecting them in a way familiar to black women and girls, who are and have always been, as I wrote in The Washington Post, “denied a spot on the pedestal of virtue white women occupied.”

The historical baggage dredged up by her comments has given the nation, since its founding, cover to stereotype and mistreat women of color, with little consequence – except for the women. As an African-American woman and journalist who strives to inform readers, and move them, I put that history and that hurt on the page; it is the choice I have made.

But it has never been an easy one.

You can catch Mary’s craft discussion, "Getting Noticed, Read and Understood on Sensitive Topics" on Friday, April 5th at 2:15pm at the Muse. For all the latest Muse news, follow #Muse19.

Mary C. Curtis, a columnist at Roll Call, is an award-winning journalist and educator based in Charlotte, N.C. She has contributed to NBC News, NPR, The Washington Post, The Root, ESPN's The Undefeated and talks politics on WCCB-TV in Charlotte. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, the Charlotte Observer, the Baltimore Sun, and the Associated Press, and was national correspondent for AOL's Politics Daily. Her coverage specialty is the intersection of politics, culture and race, and she has covered the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns.

Curtis is a Senior Leader with The OpEd Project, at Yale University, Cornell University, and the Ford Foundation and at the Aspen New Voices Fellowship in Johannesburg, South Africa. She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Kiplinger Fellow, in social media, at Ohio State.

Curtis is included in The HistoryMakers, the single largest archival collection of its kind in the world designed to promote and celebrate newsmakers and organizations important to the African-American community and American society; it is available digitally and permanently archived in the Library of Congress.

Her honors include Clarion Awards from the Association for Women in Communications, awards from the National Headliners and the Society of Professional Journalists, three first-place awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Thomas Wolfe Award for an examination of Confederate heritage groups. Curtis has contributed to several books, including an essay in “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.”

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