Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jennix over at Daily Kos has written a thoughtful post about literature and activism. She opens it with this wonderful anecdote:
True story. The scene is a Manhattan supper club, circa 1952. Eleanor Roosevelt approaches a table at which John and Elaine Steinbeck are dining. Elaine makes introductions, and then...

Eleanor Roosevelt: "When I go to the Soviets, they ask, 'Does that awful treatment of farmers still happen in the U.S.?’ I say, 'No, my husband and John Steinbeck took care of that.’"

John Steinbeck: "That is the best literary review I've ever received."
I can't imagine a better literary review, myself--I love how Grapes of Wrath woke people up to the plight of the farmer, and, as a result, changed the country's perspective.

I was saddened to hear that Jennifer Nix, along with other activists, had abandoned reading and writing fiction in order to focus upon activism; thankfully she realized that
As activists, we must not lose sight of art, or its value to the work we do and the sustenance and inspiration it can provide...I also realized that we needn't choose between the "activist path" or the "artist path" either. We can do both. This epiphany made me want to have these issues discussed in public forums, particularly on progressive political blogs, because I believe bringing more art into our mix will have a profound effect on our individual and collective imaginations.
I agree whole heartedly. The classes I've taught on Writing for Social Change, both online for UCLA and at the Mendocino Conference, reinforce how many people out there want to use their voices and their art to make the world a better place (and are doing beautiful, creative work in such service). If we abandon our art to serve our activism, we're abandoning one of our most powerful activist tools--our ability to reach people's hearts in addition to their minds. As Jennix writes, the best stories create empathy--they help us look deeply into the lives of "the other" and find human connection there. And that's where change comes from--when the "us vs. them" divisions dissolve and we realize we're all "us" and we need to work together to create a more just and sustainable future.

1 comment:

jennix said...

Hi Gayle--Thanks for this post. I'd love to be in touch with you. Feel free to email anytime. jennifer.nix[at]gmail.com. Maybe you know Arthur Blaustein, too? J