I want to write with you because our stories are the most vital tool we have for change.
Last year, I and some folks started something: a day of mini writing workshops, free and open to everyone, led by writers of color.
This year, as I drafted the invitations just days after the election, I found myself writing, It feels as though the times have never been more urgent for our work.
My secret agenda is always, of course, to invite the writers and collaborators from whom I most want to learn. I still draw sustenance from the vibrancy of last year’s teachings. So as we put together this year’s lineup, I’m thinking about what kind of writing guidance I most need—what all of us may need—in this peculiar, poised moment.
Just before 1:30 a.m. last Thursday on the floor of the Senate, as the roll call went down to rob tens of millions of humans of affordable health care, Sen. Ladda Tammy Duckworth dissented with those words.
Her ancestors on her white father’s side fought in the Revolutionary War. Her ancestors on her mother’s side migrated generations ago from China to Thailand. She campaigned in a wheelchair made of titanium, with stars and stripes painted on her carbon-fibre limbs. She has been on food stamps and in war zones, and she is fighting on the floor of the Senate because she knows her story.
Love, yes; money, surely; faith, perhaps; but more than anything I think it is our stories that carry us: Into the streets and through the long organizing meetings and through the grind of everyday survival. Out to our workplaces and schools and institutions. Up in all the places where we do our healing, our fighting, our incredible striving to make the world better.
Our stories are that vision of “better.” They are the foundation for all of our actions.
I want to write with you to imagine, to dream, to create joy, to play; to incline us toward the world we need and to beat back the one we don’t.
So we will hold our write-a-thon again on Feb. 8, this time in Washington DC. The need is more urgent than ever. Please come, and spread the word: It’s FREE. It’s OPEN to everyone.
I met Amita at her home recently, after a long interval of years, for (what else?) an activist organizing meeting. She was preparing for her testimony at the Senate hearings of an avowed bigot who is set to be installed to oversee justice for all. When she faced down the men running the hearing (the committee) (the country), she knew they had already shown, by their voting record, that they did not care about survivors. Our brave friend spoke out in order to bear witness: to stand on the right side of history, to resist. She connected the horror of her past with the horror of failed policy, and did it with elegant and authoritative ferocity because she has worked so very hard to know her story.
Our truths are engaged in mortal combat with other, more sinister stories. Our words are pathways to witnessing, to clarifying what is intolerable, what cannot be explained away or ignored or made better.
What do we see? What can we change and how? What cannot be reformed but must be rejected? Where must we refuse to cede ground? Who and what do we stand for?
I want to write with you because we are creatures of story, designed to explore these questions not only by sniff or instinct or silent contemplation, but also word by word. Voice by voice. One by one, but also together.
There are some who think we—mere poets, “creative” writers—must limit ourselves when we speak. That we ought to confine ourselves to certain perceived areas of expertise: syllables, perhaps, or the varieties of doves. That we should engage only in a certain tone, eschew too-direct words, write only that which will not offend the sensitivities of a certain audience. It is no accident that this is, usually, an audience of the ignorant or the dominant or both.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
Toni Morrison knows.
Every resister, every dreamer confronting every fascist moment knows.
Every writer confronting the blank page knows.
Let’s take on the despair, the enforced silences, together. Let’s imagine—and write—the words we we most need to inspire us now.
I want to write with you in Washington, DC. If you meet me there on Feb. 8, three weeks after the inaugurapocalypse, I’m sure we will have something to say.