I didn’t begin reading until seventh grade; having battled a dyslexia so severe even Dr. Seuss was out of the question. So, at twelve-years-old, The Diary of a Young Girl was the second book I ever read, after Jack London’s Call of the Wild.
I remember sitting in the courtyard outside the little special school I attended, devouring this girl’s deepest, most intimate thoughts. She was, like myself (yes, in spite of my dyslexia), an aspiring author. In a world where, it seemed to me at the time, interactions remained relatively on the surface, in which conversations skirted the weather, or the complications of one course of action or another, Anne Frank’s unabashed sharing was revelatory, drug-like even. I couldn’t get enough of it, sat devouring each page, reveling both in the fact that I could now read on my own, and that I could, in private, share in the most explicate details of another girl’s psyche. Anne Frank was vulnerable, brash, contemplative, passionate, and extraordinarily devoted to the written word.
The brave, blatant manner in which she was able to both face herself, and offer that self up to the page was an instant, and lasting influence. I was in that attic with her, learning from her, fearing with her, lusting with her. I didn’t know, until then, that others thought and felt as deeply as I did. No one had shared so much. No one had risked some idealized self image in order to cross the space between humans with something true, vulnerable, unflattering even, no one, that is, until Anne Frank.
Not only was she a literary influence, but she was a guide of sorts, for surviving. If this little girl could so gracefully face her own mortality, the loss of her worldly comforts, and of most of her friends and relatives, than any small setback I was to face in life would be more than manageable. Nothing should stop me from feeling, from longing, and most importantly, from writing.
I began keeping a diary that year, reading for an hour or so, then writing for several. The girls at school made fun of me for wanting to be like a holocaust casualty, said I was only keeping a diary because Anne Frank had kept a diary. They were right, of course. And there was nothing wrong with that.
Anne Frank taught me that writing could be a revelatory act, that through it one could share the things day-to-day conversation made no room for. One could ruminate, confess, pine, whine, and be as petty as one is deep. I loved her for this, and I loathed the world that let her die.
When I write now I imagine myself as an extension of Anne Frank. I am the “what if?” to the question of her survival. I aim to write with the same candidness, the same reverence for mortality, for sacrifice, for the necessity of sharing what’s too warm, too real, to be kept, for propriety’s sake, inside.
Robin Richardson is the author of two collections of poetry, and is Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review. Her work has appeared in Salon, Poetry Magazine, Hazlitt, Tin House, Partisan, Joyland, and The North American Review, among others. She holds an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and has been shortlisted for the CBC, Walrus, and Lemon Hound Poetry Prizes, among others. Richardson’s latest collection, Sit How You Want, is forthcoming with Véhicule Press. Poems from the collection have been adapted to song by composer Andrew Staniland for The Brooklyn Art Song Society. Richardson’s memoir Like Father is forthcoming.