F&M Stories

Alumni Author Uses the Power of Personal Narrative

Lyzette Wanzer ’88 always considered herself a writer, but it was during her time as a drama major at Franklin & Marshall that she began to focus seriously on her craft.

“I remember I used to spend Friday and Saturday evenings in the library writing poetry while everyone else was out,” Wanzer said.

Wanzer will return to campus on Wednesday, March 27, to discuss her book “Trauma, Tresses, and Truth: Untangling Our Hair Through Personal Narratives” at 7 p.m. in Roschel Theater. A book signing and reception will follow the discussion.

The book, a Library Journal Best Social Science Title of 2022, explores systemic biases against Black and Afro-Latina natural hair and how personal narratives might foster understanding and respect.

Wanzer began exploring this topic in an essay, “Twisted,” originally published in Guernica, and on a panel at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) 2020 conference in San Antonio. The Black Lives Matter protest in the summer of 2020 inspired her to develop the project into a book. 

“I had such an emotional upheaval over that. I was so angry, and I knew I had to find a healthy way to metabolize that rage,” Wanzer said. She began working on a book proposal and received offers from publishers that fall. 

Though she originally intended to write the book alone, Wanzer worried that readers might dismiss her experiences as isolated incidents rather than indicators of systemic issues. So she began asking other authors, including her AWP co-panelists, to contribute to the book. 

“Very few Black women have gotten out of girlhood without having some kind of traumatic experience with their hair,” Wanzer said. 

She wanted the book to blend critical and historical perspectives with “visceral” personal stories. A total of 13 authors contributed essays discussing the perceptions and politics of natural hair in professional, corporate, and academic environments. 

While Wanzer now makes her living as a writer, she said it took “decades” to achieve that goal. She spent time working for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in Atlanta and Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco before she began teaching creative writing and receiving grants that allowed her to leave her day job.

For any student interested in a career in writing, Wanzer said it’s important to read widely outside of class and write as much as possible.

“You don’t have to write every day—I know that’s the old adage, but I think that’s kind of outdated—but write a lot," she said. 

Wanzer also emphasized the value of finding a mentor who can provide encouragement and support. For her, that mentor was the late F&M Professor of Drama, Gordon M. Wickstrom, to whom her book is partially dedicated.

“He made us write a lot in his classes,” Wanzer said. “It really pushed me to work and to learn.”

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