Anne Frank would be 80 years old on June 12, 2009. To honor the milestone, I re-read her diary and it is as painful a read as ever. It is also funny, descriptive, mundane, deep, silly, bubbly, and filled with all the musings of a normal teenage girl. She loved her father, hated her mother, built an alliance with, and rejected her sister Margot. She disliked the boy, Peter, she lived with in the Secret Annex, until she got a crush on him and then obsessed about him all day long.
She did what most of us as teenagers did sooner or later: wrote The Hurtful Letter to her father telling him to buzz off and why -- her independence had become stronger than her attachment to him and worth risking his love for -- only to wish she could take back her words. She wrestled with yearnings, to be career woman, to be listened to, to be wanted by Peter.
Anne Frank vowed to have a career in writing. Over the course of her two years in hiding, Anne's writing got wider and deeper, to embrace everything from politics to the dwindling potato supply. Some passages in the latter part of the diary are so gorgeous it's hard to believe that a teenager wrote them. Perhaps because it is a diary, meant to relay her inner thoughts, her honesty and inclusion of details deftly draws the reader in. Her simple, regular references to being stuck inside, behind dirty, curtained, windows, with only a small crack for air, is heartbreaking. This girl yearned to be outside, to be near nature. Why did she write? Why is her diary one of the most read books in the world?
One organization which understands the need for writing, and which will celebrate Anne Frank's life at its annual conference this year, is the International Women's Writing Guild www.iwwg.org a non profit organization born of the Human Potential, New Age and the Women's Movements. Started in 1975 by Hannelore Hahn, herself a survivor of war time Europe and author of the memoir, On the Way to Feed the Swans, IWWG encourages, supports and promotes women's writing and publishing. IWWG holds yearly conferences in Florida, California, the Mid-west and New York City as well as its renowned summer conference at Skidmore College every year, where writers may choose from up to 70 workshops on topics such as: the Nuts and Bolts Writing Workshops, Transformation of Self and Work, Mythology and Non-Linear Thinking, and the Arts, the Body and Health. IWWG has found agents for some now famous (e.g. Barbara Kingsolver) and not yet famous, writers. In addition to the usual prose and poetry of the established literati, IWWG has offered kite flying, juggling, Japanese Fan Dancing, Soul Dolls, Mask Making, Mandalas at conferences, to help make oneself feel free to write.
IWWG opens this year's conference on June 12, 2009, what would be Anne Frank's 80th birthday. A most basic tenet of IWWG will be celebrated: to encourage each person to write his or her own story. As IWWG prepares to honor Anne Frank, I dug up my first diary, received at age thirteen. I won it as a prize at a talent show at my friend Maureen's birthday party for doing an imitation of Richard Nixon.
My diary is silly and bubbling and mundane. Like Anne Frank's diary, mine became a person. I promised my diary I would update it and often did just to say "nothing really happened today" ;"nothing is new". My entries usually ended with "until tomorrow". I wrote about crushes on boys and hopes of seeing them in town. My hurt over relationships with my best girl friends is poignantly told.
I was surprised to discover how much my first diary reflects who I am today. I loved school and wrote in mid-July how much I missed it. My habit of listing the books I read, (e.g. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Ten Little Indians) along with mini reviews, began with that first diary.
Every diary is a rendering of life that is truer than any form of writing. I am grateful that Anne Frank gave us the gift of her diary, her writing and herself. I am happy that many of us will revisit The Diary of a Young Girl on the occasion of what would be Anne Frank's 80th birthday, for its sadness and joy, and above all, for its humanity.
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