Art is Both Necessary and Not Enough
Because 100% isn’t enough right now, 200% of book sales (full cover price doubled) through the websites of 421 Atlanta and Publishing Genius will go to either the Southern Poverty Law Center or MALDEF Mexican American Legal Defense (for Lay Me Low by Chris Cheney).
Jane Liddle’s Murder is particularly timely.
Indie literature is already a site of resistance. It’s a way to clarify and communicate an alternative mode of being in a world that mostly asks us to be unthinking and unfeeling. It’s an alternative economy already, so it makes easy sense to shift into a higher gear. I give money to SPLC whenever I can anyway, but this is a way to take something I have (copies of excellent books) to involve more people and direct even more resources to the organization. Maybe you have something to sell, a book you published or art you made or a service you provide, that you could turn in this direction.
SPLC is known largely for tracking hate groups, but they also have incredible resources for educators. Their Teaching Tolerance curriculum and lessons plans are all free. I’m just beginning to survey the landscape of what’s available, like their Social Justice Anchor Standards.
On Saturday, I went to the National Council of Teachers of English conference, where the general session speaker was Ta-Nehisi Coates. When asked about the election, Coates said that he was shocked that he was shocked. Basically, he said that it was all predictable if you look at the sweep of American history. It was practically inevitable that the backlash against our first black president would lead to these election results. He said that, if you look at it through the perspective of someone like Frederick Douglass, who saw the end of slavery only to see a second slavery follow, and who still persevered and continued his work, then you can’t see this election, and whatever may come with it. as unendurable. Others have endured. It’s in the literature. Then he spoke of his role as a writer. He said, “Train whatever bit of light you have on that one thing.”—the one thing being, for him, writing.
As a writer, publisher, and teacher, this election has not shaken my faith in what literature can do. It is necessary. It is not enough AND it is necessary. With that in mind, some literature:
Always Frederick Douglass. Read all the Frederick Douglass you can.
Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis. Early in the book, Davis writes about Douglass, and how he fought for women’s rights as he fought for civil rights for black people. According to Davis, “Frederick Douglass remains the foremost male proponent of women’s emancipation of the entire nineteenth century.” Meanwhile, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed the 15th amendment because it meant black men would get the ballot before white women. This is a vital history.
Living for Change by Grace Lee Boggs. As an activist who lived from 1915 to 2015, Boggs fought for civil rights for pretty much a FULL CENTURY. And she wrote about it so you can learn from her example.
Things I Should Have Told My Daughter by Pearl Cleage. I listened to the audiobook, which Cleage reads. The book is a collection of excerpts from Cleage’s diary, spanning the years when she worked for Maynard Jackson, got married, had a child, got divorced, quit working for Maynard Jackson, and meanwhile wrote and wrote and published, so it’s got the political angle and the writer angle, but also it’s also intimate and funny and intersectionally feminist in the most personal way.
The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg. If you appreciate the plain directness of Elena Ferrante, or if you don’t think she writes plainly and directly enough, you really ought to read Natalia Ginzburg. She lived in exile under Fascist rule in Italy. Don’t read it to be consoled; the most uplifting sentence in her essay on that time period, “Winter in the Abruzzi,” is, “All our chilblains gradually got better.” And in essay called “Silence,” she writes that silence “must be numbered among the strangest and gravest vices of our time,” and, speaking of vices, that “a feeling of guilt is one of the vices of our time; a great deal is talked a written about it. We all suffer from it. We feel ourselves to be involved with something that gets filthier with every day that passes. And there is also the feeling of panic; we all suffer from that too. The feeling of panic comes from the feeling of guilt. And a man who is panic-stricken and guilty stays silent.”
This is a good time to be purposeful in your reading, and to think hard about what you read.
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