the Us of Us at Writers Resist

Monday, January 16, 2017

"Friday the Thirteenth," was written in 1970 by Allen Ginsberg. Hillary Clinton made her remarks for the United Nations 4th World Conference on Women in 1995. Jameson Fitzpatrick wrote "I Woke Up" in 2016, and Toni Morrison published Beloved in 1987, and Octavius V. Catto and others prepared the Address of the Colored State Convention to the People of Pennsylvania in 1865, and James Baldwin released The Fire Next Time in 1963, and Che Guevera offered his thoughts in Socialism and Man in Cuba in 1963, and Mia Mingus wrote "Wherever You Are is Where I Want to Be: Crip Solidarity," and then there was Langston Hughes in 1936, with "Let America Be America Again."

You put your heart down on a page, the long excursion of your worries, your cracked skies of hope, your insistence, your chides, and then you put your name beneath those words, and finally you say: Here. This is for you. Take.

Yesterday at the National Museum of American Jewish History, in my city of often raucous love, as part of the worldwide #Writers Resist initiative, the words crafted by others became the words of Us, and by Us I mean the three dozen writers and producers and musicians and editors who took the stage. I mean the Us who crowded that standing-room-only auditorium, breathless and leaned into and moved. I mean the Us who came wrapped in the arms of parents and those who strolled or wheeled in and those who didn't know what they were getting into and those who had no idea who might come. Would anybody come? We were Us yesterday, and the words we shared belong to Us, and we claimed them, not for our own individual advancement, not to be a lit star, not to curry praise for our inspired performance, our own ingenious orchestrations of words, but because Us is the legacy we share, the legacy we must carry forward if we are to be decent and good and wide thinking and effective and, yes, that word again, inclined toward hope.

Forgive me, writers, but at times, is this not true?: We take the stage, we stand beneath the lights, and we want outcomes for ourselves. We want to be remembered for and as ourselves, taken seriously for and as ourselves, asked, for and as ourselves, to sign the books waiting in the lobby. Our books. With our names right there on the pretty covers. But that wasn't writers yesterday. Yesterday we remembered that our first job, always, is empathy. Our first responsibility is to slide inside the wrappings of others and imagine ourselves to be them, and so we did, and I will never forget the feeling that I had, the feeling that you gave me yesterday, of sitting there and briefly standing there, and transcending.

Thank you, all of you. Thank you, Nathaniel Popkin and Stephanie Feldman and Alicia Askenase, for bringing us together. Thank you, PEN America and Erin Belieu, for bringing the power of the word to the people.

Now we continue on.


Jon McGoran said...

It was an amazing and inspiring event, and you were a great part of it. Thanks for capturing it with such eloquent words.

Kerry Gans said...

I am so glad I got to attend this amazing event. The words that echoed down through history showed us how far we have come--and how far we have yet to go. Those words delivered with such passion by all the readers, spoke to the America that should be, that could be--and that will be if we all fight for right above might. Thank you, all the readers, and the organizers, for such a deeply meaningful event.

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