language as community: a morning spent among writers in the age of alternative facts

Sunday, February 5, 2017

I should have gotten up and gone to the front of the room and taken a real photo. One that honestly mirrored the rows upon rows (Lin-Manuel Miranda style) of those who had come together at the Institute of Contemporary Art during the hours of brunch on a cloudy Sunday to ask: How do we move from resistance to positing a more just society? And: How do we #writeourdemocracy? And: What do we do to capitalize upon the energy we have found, live and palpable, within each other? And: What can writers do that others can't? And: What must writers do that others might not?

But I didn't stand up. I was rooted in my chair—learning from lifelong advocates, taking a lesson or two in the awful art of gerrymandering, jotting notes on resources like Indivisible, and thinking about my own responsibilities as a woman who has fought, in her books and essays and teaching, on behalf of beauty and transcending purpose.

Writers make room for the dreams of others. Writers harness, to quote Nic Esposito and Linda Gallant from The Head and The Hand Press, the power of entertainment to create meaningful change. Writers are most effective when they tell the truth or when they imagine wholly and when they do not scream. Sometimes writers are at their very best when they offer a respite from the world—a metaphor's remove from the harrowing now, a chance to breathe freely again.

Over the course of two hours that could have stretched to many more, the writers in that room today (led by Nathaniel Popkin and Stephanie Feldman) discussed possibilities—questions, issues, tactics, strategies, resources. I am listing some of the primary elements of that conversation here. We're hoping they inspire you. To find out more about anything listed here, join this email list, and ask questions, make suggestions, say yes to what feels right to you.

Many Philadelphia writers have a felt responsibility to incorporate historic city texts into the conversations that swirl today. As part of that process, work is underway to publish the Philadelphia freedom texts that were read on January 15th during the WritersResistPHL gathering (more that gathering here). Interested in researching and sharing and, indeed, applying additional texts? Ask questions.

Many writers are concerned about purported proposals that would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those who would like to participate in drafting a petition or speaking to representatives or framing the importance of the arts to legislators or patrons have an opportunity to get involved.

The Philadelphia-area writers traveling to the AWP conference in Washington, DC, hope to put on a united front—to get to know each other, to advocate with each other, to make a difference together. If you're planning on spending time at the AWP and would like to help organize a united front, check in through the email list.

Philadelphia-area writers and artists and musicians seeking to strengthen the power of their art and the utility of their concerns would benefit from collaboration and conversation with other similar groups across the city and nation. Start or join a conversation about linking your actions/our actions to the work of others via the list.

On April 1, on the Widener campus, an undergraduate-focused Writers Resist program will feature the voices of the young from campuses across our area. If you are a teacher or a parent who knows of undergraduates who would like to read or speak (or if you are an undergraduate!), ask questions.

Every protest march, every protest poster, is ultimately local. Politics happens on a local level, too—through locally elected representatives. Gerrymandering, in the words of the non-partisan organization Fair Districts PA—results in "politicians ... choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing their politicians." One of the most important acts of change will come from those who effectively speak up and out with the tools provided through this organization. There are resources out there. Ask.

If we're going to speak or write or be active, we have to have the facts. Many texts, articles, resources were noted today. If you were one of those sharing links, please share them via the list. If you have additional links to share, please do add those as well.

Many literary journals and bloggers have platforms through which to speak, or platforms from which they might now speak. Among those discussed at today's meeting were Cleaver, which offers a "Life as Activism" segment, the Shockwire Chapbook series developed by The Head & The Hand Press, and mainstream publications. Additionally, there is the Write Our Democracy program, noted above, created by the national WritersResist program—an opportunity for you to write an immigrant's story.

What do writers do? They write. Who can writers help, on a volunteer basis? Those who need some writing done. There are resources out there listing organizations in fields ranging from science and the environment to health care and immigration that could all use a voluntary press corps. If you'd like to help with this, or if you are an organization in need, let your interests be known.

Independent bookstores are sanctuaries, no matter the time of day or the season. But such bookstores have a special role to play today. If you are interested in helping bookstores develop material that might be shared with patrons, get involved.

Many individual writers and artists are hosting speakers, unveiling new exhibits, and launching books at this time—all opportunities to go beyond the typical book launch or lecture or show to bring people together and raise funds for the greater good. If you would like to help manage or create a single listing of such events, please ask questions on the Facebook page. If you would like to help develop a tool kit that might be disseminated at signings and events, please let us know.

Writers will only be effective as a group if the group mirrors our societies as a whole. Today we heard from two women who have embarked on a project designed to help them truly know each other. But what more can be done to ensure that the group that gathered today is sufficiently diverse in all ways? We'd love your ideas.

There was, believe me, more said and proposed and hoped for today. But this, I think, gets us started. I'll conclude this blog posting the way our meeting ended, with words by Calvino, as read to us by Ann de Forest, from Six Memos for the Next Millennium, written in 1985. Excerpting from the excerpt: "Think what it would be to have a work conceived from outside the self, a work that would escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter into selves like our own, but to give speech to that which has no language, to the bird perching on the edge of the gutter, to the tree in spring and the tree in fall, to stone, to cement, to plastic......."


Laurie said...

I was energized and lifted by attending this. The size was a great thing. But I did wish we had smaller breakout circles to just shmooze together and share ideas about what each of us was doing as individuals and inspire each other.On the other hand as many writers are shy might this be too scary? But wondering if we could have a meeting at some point devoted to this kind of sharing and connection and support? Then those comfortable with this could come.

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