Do you keep a journal – or wish you could get one started? Literary Mama wants to help. Several times a month, we’ll post a writing prompt. Open a notebook and write for 10 minutes. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation – just write. Then let the writing simmer and your mind wander for awhile.
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”- Harriet Beecher Stowe
Last Friday was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s birthday. Stowe was a woman who challenged the modern ideals of her day, and with her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, significantly rocked the boat that America was sailing on.
Stowe lived at a critical time in America’s history, when the divide between slave owners and freedom supporters was ever-growing. She had a personal knowledge of slavery partly because as an adult living in Ohio, she met and assisted many runaway slaves as a part of the Underground Railroad.
As political tensions rose, Congress enacted The Compromise of 1850, which was intended to relieve some of the struggles between North and South. The goal was to preserve the Union. But the Compromise included the Fugitive Slave Law, which forced everyone, including ordinary citizens, to help catch and return runaway slaves. Failing to do so resulted in large fines and long imprisonments. The law also abolished the need for slave-catchers to validate by trial whether the black person they caught was truly a slave or not. Slave-catchers got paid for every slave they sent back South, and so this law produced a new, unjust market of kidnapping people from the north, and sending them south.
Stowe was outraged at this law and the idea that the government might force her to comply with something so unjust. She continued assisting runaways escape to Canada. “Her sister-in-law Isabella Porter Beecher suggested she do more: ‘…if I could use a pen as you can, Hatty, I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.’” Which is exactly what Stowe did.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a story that arrived in American homes and gave voice to the humanity, the struggle, the racism, the heartbreak that so many people were grappling with at the time. There is a legend that says Stowe was greeted by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 with “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”
In a time of great turmoil, Stowe took out her pen and wrote. She used her words to make a change. Today, the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center asks us what will we do? In the spirit of Harriet Beecher Stowe they issue us a challenge, and we, as writers and mothers, must answer. In your journal today, write about a current issue that divides your community, one that breaks your heart, or one that you feel needs to be put to words. Imagine that your writing will alter the course of humanity in the way that Stowe’s did. What will you say? Say it.
Do YOU have a journaling topic or writing prompt you’d like to suggest? Send an email to lmblogcontacteditor (at) literarymama (dot) com. We’d love to hear from you!