Writers Resist

You may have heard about Writers Resist, and if not, here’s the skinny, from their website:

Our democracy is at risk. Growing public cynicism and an alarming disdain for truthfulness is eroding our most dearly held democratic ideals. As writers we have tremendous power to bypass empty political discourse and focus public attention on the ideals of a free, just, and compassionate society…. 

Throughout the US and in other countries, writers are organizing their own Writers Resist events on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, January 15, 2017.

Invited speakers will read from a curated selection of diverse writers’ voices that speak to the ideals of Democracy and free expression. The public is encouraged to attend.

I’m cynical by nature, so I’ll just admit that while Writers Resist is an appealing idea, it doesn’t seem to me to promise very much in the long-run. It’s not as though we’ll have any particular insight into strategies for resistance. We’re just one more group of people who are frightened and angry and worried. 

But it doesn’t hurt, and it may well help in some ways for writers to get together and invite the rest of the non-writers in their communities to come listen to them read and talk. So I offered my help and ended up creating the poster for the Bellingham Writers Resist Event. And here it is. 

It may just be depression that’s weighing me down, but this whole thing makes me feel weary.  

Wise Women

I would guess that most writers are interested in what other writers have to say about the process of writing.  Everyone needs validation, after all. So when I come across something an author said that strikes me as especially relevant or interesting (or funny, or inspiring), I add it to the quotes collection for this weblog. They show up in the right hand column under wise guys.  

Of course many of the quotes are by women authors, but somehow I can’t give up on wise guys as a title. There are too many complicated associations that work for me. And wise guys and gals would be awful.  So I’ll leave the title as is, but I wanted to make those of you who still stop by here (because I don’t post very often — I tend to do that on FaceBook these days) aware that there are some gems available for your inspiration. So for example, one I love especially:

…writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’

Jhumpa Lahiri
Notes from an apprenticeship. The New Yorker. 13/20 June 2011

If you happen to notice a quote you think I’ve got the wrong attribution for, or if you know a source and I’ve left it out, please do leave a comment. I’d appreciate it.

Edited to add: All the quotations are supposed to be accessible on one page, here. But it doesn’t work very well. Looking for a solution. Just fyi.

revealing words on words

There are many things to admire about Barbara Kingsolver’s work. She has written some novels that I think about all the time, even years after first reading them. Her people and their stories crawl into my head and make a permanent home for themselves there, settling in between  Aunt Helen’s overgrown garden at sunrise in the hottest days of summer and the sound of chalk squeaking in Sister Peter Joseph’s fourth grade classroom.  What more could any author ask for? 

Then today I came across this quote about writing, and now I know that she is indeed the wise woman I suspected she must be on the basis of her fiction. Because it all comes down to this.

“A novel can educate to some extent, but first a novel has to entertain. That’s the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I’ll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessibility. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with — — who may not often read anything but the Sears catalog — — to read my books.”  

Barbara Kingsolver

Toni Morrison at 85, and life goals

In February Toni Morrison turned 85. I did mean to post about it back then, and just yesterday realized that I had missed the date by something close to a year. Luckily she’s still out there writing things that need to be read. So for example, an essay about the election called Mourning for Whiteness. Toni Morrison has never shied away from difficult topics. 

I would love to come and help out wherever Ms Morrison is having Thanksgiving, because I think it would be an education of a very rare and valuable kind to be able to listen to her talk to her nearest and dearest. To hear her tell stories would be the perfect compliment to reading her stories, the novels that have so moved me over the years.  Toni Morrison speaks from a heart of gleaming ebony;  she speaks the language of her community.

When the Oakland African American English controversy was washing over the country, Ms Morrison was one of the few prominent black academics and role models who did not give in to that full-blown moral panic; she did not reject the language she is most comfortable with or the children who speak it. Jesse Jackson said some harsh and destructive things about African American English, which was rather ironic as he is a main speaker of that language.

Toni Morrison has always talked about the power of African American English and its importance, as in this 1981 interview:

The language, only the language. The language must be careful and must appear effortless. It must not sweat. It must suggest and be provocative at the same time. It is the thing that black people love so much—the saying of words, holding them on the tongue, experimenting with them, playing with them. It’s a love, a passion. Its function is like a preacher’s: to make you stand up out of your seat, make you lose yourself and hear yourself. The worst of all possible things that could happen would be to lose that language. There are certain things I cannot say without recourse to my language. It’s terrible to think that a child with five different present tenses comes to school to be faced with those books that are less than his own language. And then to be told things about his language, which is him, that are sometimes permanently damaging. He may never know the etymology of Africanisms in his language, not even know that “hip” is a real word or that “the dozens” meant something. This is a really cruel fallout of racism. I know the standard English I want to use it to help restore the other language, the lingua franca.

Ms Morrison is someone I admire greatly, for her courage and power as a writer and a woman and a woman of color.  I hope she glides along to ninety trailing essays and novels and stories behind her. 

This quote from her is the truest thing I know about writing.

Passion is never enough.
Neither is skill.