Despite the first snowstorm of the season, fourteen writers gathered on Saturday, December 10 at the Northampton Center for the Arts to talk about using our writing as a tool for social justice. The conversation was lively and respectful, provocative and supportive. In two hours, we just scratched the surface of this big and critical issue, so further Social Justice Roundtable discussions are planned.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
~ James Baldwin
“That is why we write – as an act of human solidarity and commitment to the future. We want to change the rules, even if we won’t live long enough to see the results.”
“There is no writing in Africa that can fail to be political. Whereas in the West, if a novel is said to be ‘political’ it means that it is not very good, it’s used as a criticism. Or the critics say, ‘Although it is political, it is a good novel’, which is in itself a very political thing to say. For it means, ‘The world is okay, we don’t need to drag in any of these extraneous factors. Let’s talk about Art, about style, about the use of language. Things are okay!’ So there are two positions. One is conservative, the other is not – because it doesn’t have anything to conserve, it wants a resharing of things.”
“I write poetry so that I can move from one moment to the next without stopping to scream into my cupped hands. I write to celebrate, to condemn, to mourn, to be giddy and ridiculous, to bellow what’s up front in my life.”
The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
“…we say no to the neutrality of the human word. We say no to those who invite us to wash our hands of the crucifixions we witness daily. To the bored fascination of an art that is cold, indifferent, contemplative of its mirrored reflection, we prefer a warm art, one that celebrates the human adventure in the world and participates in this adventure, an art that is incurably enamored and pugnacious. Would beauty be beautiful if it were not just? Would justice be just if it were not beautiful? We say no to the divorce of beauty and justice, because we say yes to the powerful and fertile embrace they share.”
“Realism depended on the writer and reader having a shared description of what the world was like, a shared worldwiew. But today, reality is highly contested. …The game-playing, allusive, fantasticated forms let in multiple points of view and seem closer to truth than naturalistic fiction. Allegory and fable seem better suited to this weird time.”
“I know up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here on the bottom,
We too should have rights.”
“Living in a nation of people who decided that their world view would combine agendas for individual freedom and mechanisms for devastating racial oppression presents a singular landscape for a writer.”
“There’s a general assumption on the part of American critics and academics that anyone who writes fiction or poetry that is politically conscious must be kind of dense – that by its nature the work is cruder than work that simply embodies currently held notions; that, roughly speaking, leftist or feminist work is by definition more naïve, simpler, less profound than right-wing work.”
“Even if someone is a torturer, you don’t have the luxury of writing him off, of not ‘listening’ to him when you’re writing about him. You have to live your characters’ lives with them. They have to be sympathetic in some way. Understanding the complexity of a difficult character’s life is most appealing to me as a writer.”
“For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”
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