One of the delights of time off is having time to catch up on interviews I missed during the last hectic weeks of the quarter. I loved this interview with Jacqueline Woodson on NPR's Fresh Air. It's full of fascinating insights about living in both the North and the South, about her experiences as a Jehovah's Witness when she went to live with her grandmother, about her writing.
The interview doesn't shy away from the flashpoint of controversy that happened with Daniel Handler's racist joke at the National Book Awards. Woodson handled that incident and talking about it with grace. It took me back to November.
Shortly after the incident, I read Nikky Finney's excellent response to Daniel Handler's racist joke at the National Book Awards. She wrote to the National Book Foundation suggesting that they apologize too; they declined. She concludes her piece: "Even if our mouth was not the mouth that said it—we still must have and find the courage to speak out against such moments as these, lest all our windows be broken, lest all our great literary celebrations be reduced to a watermelon patch."
I felt that leaden sorrow--but then I ran across this story of how Handler is making atonement: he's making a $10,000 donation to We Need Diverse Books--and for 24 hours, he matched donations. Now that's a classy way of apologizing.
Sure, it would be nice to live in a world where apologies for these kinds of comments aren't necessary because everyone is enlightened and thinks before they speak. But we don't live in that world yet.
In her speech at the National Book Awards, Ursula K. Le Guin reminds us of why art is important and how artists will be necessary: "I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."
She reminds us that the reality we have now may not be the reality that we always have: "The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words."
What a wonderful reminder of why we need to do what we do as writers and artists!
On this day when many of us head back to work, back to our classrooms, back to all sorts of commitments and obligations, I love revisiting the words of LeGuin. I love the reminder that our creativity is important--it's how we envision the world in which we want to live. If we don't have a vision, we aren't likely to move towards it.
Let us begin.
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