Piecing together the Sunday Post is usually easy and a pleasure; in fact, it’s an excuse and justification for the most idle pleasure possible: endless scrolling through the world of online content, mind half alert, fingers on autopilot.
But the Internet after the inauguration of our 45th president is no place for the idle or unalert. As much as Donald Trump has dominated the media, social and otherwise, since his presidential bid began, this week has been different. A single subject, on every front page and in every channel. Not a single voice, though — a cacophony. Anger, sorrow, and calls to arms; reflection, determination, and calls to hope.
What deserves to be heard in a week like that? Writing that clarifies, that provokes thought, that reveals. Writing that reminds us: the written word is a powerful voice. Use it.
Post-inauguration, George Will, pointedly, and David Remnick, thoughtfully, both remind us that our government has built-in protections against misuse, even with an “unenlightened statesman” at the helm — and that an informed and engaged citizenry is first among them.
But Dan Rather’s impassioned, outraged response on Facebook may be the definitive statement on the Trump inauguration (via Meena Jang at The Hollywood Reporter):
Of the nearly 20 inaugurations I can remember, there has never been one that felt like today. Not even close. Never mind the question of the small size of the crowds, or the boycott by dozens of lawmakers, or even the protest marches slated for tomorrow across the country. Those are plays upon the stage. What is truly unprecedented in my mind is the sheer magnitude of quickening heartbeats in millions of Americans, a majority of our country if the polls are to be believed, that face today buffeted within and without by the simmering ache of dread.
I have never seen my country on an inauguration day so divided, so anxious, so fearful, so uncertain of its course.
No rose-colored glasses for Margaret Atwood, who is well aware that artists are imperfect and their work is often trivial — and yet —
With the Trump era upon us, it’s the artists and writers who can remind us, in times of crisis or panic, that each one of us is more than just a vote, a statistic. Lives may be deformed by politics — and many certainly have been — but we are not, finally, the sum of our politicians.
In November, in response to the election outcome, Rebecca Solnit made her treatise Hope in the Dark freely available online. This week she writes again on hope and resistance: “There is another America rising and taking action, and it is beautiful.”
Among other examples, she highlights ongoing efforts by California’s legislation to protect its citizens as our nation’s values shift, starting with a bold and quickly viral statement published Nov. 9 of last year. Andy Kroll has the dramatic political (and human) story behind that statement:
At 6 a.m., Dan Reeves, de León’s chief of staff, got into his car to drive back up to Sacramento from L.A. He stopped at a Carl’s Jr. to help with a hangover and then started making calls. As drafts of the joint statement flew back and forth between the two offices, Reeves had each version read aloud to him while he was driving the I-5. Cut that line. Too slow. Good, good, good. Rendon’s people wanted more time, but Reeves insisted the statement go out as soon as possible. The staffs settled on a final draft at 10:57. Rendon and de León signed off an hour later, and at just past noon, the two offices hit send.
The statement, released in English and Spanish, had come a long way from de León’s phone call and Rendon’s late-night riffing. But the opening line had remained intact just as Rendon had first written it: “Today, we woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land ….”
I’m dead certain that when Warren Ellis said “science will fuck you,” what he meant was that science is splendidly and gloriously implacable, tenacious, and defiant. Science isn’t cold, uncaring facts — it’s art with evidence. Powerful stuff.
The New Scientist has a four-part special tracking intersections between scientific endeavor and the new administration, starting with a piece from Sally Adee on how activists and protestors can cover their electronic tracks as Trump expands surveillance.
Bill McKibbon, at Wired, reminds us that dismantling the Paris accord strikes not just at environmental action but at the “building blocks of our common home — science and diplomacy and also civility.”
And Elizabeth Lopatto, science editor at The Verge, speaks out on why their science coverage can’t and won’t ignore Donald Trump.
Science is a way of seeing that provides us with facts. What we do with those facts is deeply political. Determining whether pollution harms people is a matter of scientific inquiry, but deciding what to do in response to that data is politics. Who uses the water and land, and how? Those aren’t scientific questions — they’re political ones. Do we value the safety of our citizens or the profits of our corporations? What’s the balance between the two? Those are also political questions.
If you truly want nothing this weekend but to indulge in some righteous rage, here are two highly satisfying diatribes.
Jesse Berney is a little indignant:
Of course he’s getting rid of the NEA and the NEH. What use does Donald Trump have for the things that make life beautiful and good? He surrounds himself with gilded ugliness. He’s a billionaire who hangs a Renoir reproduction in the $100 million abattoir he lives in, because why would he want an original? He has enough money and fame to access to the finest tailors in the world, and his suits don’t fit. His hair is stupid.
And a gloriously breathless temper-tantrum from Joe Kloc. Not even sure to how excerpt from this, here’s one almost-random sample:
Trump, who once dumped a glass of wine on a journalist who wrote a story he didn’t like, told his supporters that journalists were “liars,” the “lowest form of humanity,” and “enemies,” but that he did not approve of killing them. “I’m a very sane person,” said Trump ...
Finally, in case you missed it (as the kids say), both of the co-founders of this publication have responded to the Trump inauguration and deserve the final word. Martin McClellan bears witness through the lens of Marcel Duchamp, and Paul Constant has marching orders for Seattle Review of Books readers:
If you think of an institution that you hold dear, chances are good that institution will be under attack over the next four years. It’s going to be brutal, and it’s going to happen on multiple fronts.
So here’s what you do. You pick the areas that you care the most about, that you understand really well. And then you fight for them.
Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.
Theaters have a special place in the history of cities. It's more than memory, although I've certainly seen some notable performances at the Moore Theater over the years (odds are pretty good you have as well). Theaters take up a huge amount of space on the grid, but are only lit up with activity and people a few hours a day, at best. The rest of the time they lay in wait, a few people prepping, practicing, staging, or constructing, but otherwise, they're empty.
During the day, the gates across the front entrance may be slightly cracked, and you wonder who is inside. Perhaps you catch the person changing the letters on the marquee. Perhaps you think you hear sound check leaking out. Perhaps you see the tour buses, the sides popped out to allow for more sleeping space, parked in front or on Virginia between 2nd and 3rd.
The Moore is the oldest still-active theater in Seattle. About half the capacity of the grander Paramount across town, the theater feels both grand and tiny when full and a performer is on stage. You can see the expressions on their faces, the intimacy is something amazing.
It opened in 1907, which means as its doors were first thrown wide, just north workers were still sluicing away parts of Denny Hill, in the second regrade effort. The Moore's purpose was to house (in the adjoining hotel) and entertain visitors of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a grand world's fair in 1907 (we all know what the fair grounds of the 1962 world's fair became, so what became of the grounds of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition? They became the University of Washington campus).
For many years the Moore was a movie palace, and under the name Moore Egyptian it hosted the first SIFF festival in 1976, before the folks that ran it moved the theater to the old Masonic Temple on Capitol Hill, and kept the Egyptian name.
The Moore has a second balcony, that has a separate entrance off Virginia, which bypasses the grand lobby, and offers more modest bathrooms. Speculation is that this was for racially segregating theater goers, but historians have not been able to uncover definitive proof. Other speculation is that the balcony was for economic segregation, which was defacto racial segregation as well. Feliks Banel wrote a great piece on this that was published on My Northwest.
Now, isn't that enough to give us some ideas to write about?
I keep asking myself: What sequence of events, in all human history, was stranger, more bizarre, more tragically ridiculous than this?— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) January 20, 2017
Things are getting weird. Yesterday, I noticed a certain panicked expression on the faces of commuters. People answered the question "how are you?" by averting their eyes and mumbling that they're doing okay, considering everything. You know that moment when you suddenly realize that you've been clenching your jaw for the last 24 hours? That's what yesterday was like.
Today, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. He doesn't like to read. He could defund the NEA and privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. If you think of an institution that you hold dear, chances are good that institution will be under attack over the next four years. It's going to be brutal, and it's going to happen on multiple fronts.
So here's what you do. You pick the areas that you care the most about, that you understand really well. And then you fight for them. Donate to your local ACLU. Make some noise. Explain why the thing you love matters. Inspire people around you, and allow yourself to be inspired. Take care of yourself. Ask for help if you need it. Hopefully, if you're up for it, you'll join us in the streets for the Womxn's March on Saturday.
And look for writers to lead the way. Read Elisa Chavez's great poem "Revenge" again. Local poet Jeannine Hall Gailey just published a moving poem called "Failure, 2016" at Nice Cage. There will be many more — thousands more, tens of thousands more — in the days and weeks and years ahead. Read what they have to say and take it to heart. And if you can't find the thing you want to read out there, write it yourself. With words and actions, by example and with love, today is the day we start taking the country back.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to email@example.com.
There’s a local writer I hate. You’d know his name. He’s awful. Sometimes I have to get into the comments and tell him how much I hate his writing, and sometimes I know I go overboard. I don’t threaten him or anything, but I do make some rather dramatic claims about parts of his anatomy. It’s awful. I’m awful. I don’t troll anyone (or anywhere) else. I even surprise myself sometimes with how much I love to troll him.
I try to ignore his writing, but he’s on a site with other writers who I love. I’ve blocked him on Twitter and Facebook, but I still encounter him on a regular basis, and I hate what my hatred for his self-satisfied prose is doing to me. What do I do?
Bob, Mountlake Terrace
You're looking at your hatred of this writer the wrong way. Who we hate says more about us than the object of our attention; these individuals represent qualities we despise, qualities we see in ourselves (that we despise), or qualities we envy. For instance, I tend to despise emotionally dismissive drunks, liars, cowards, hairy spiders with enormous pedipalps, and people who thread toilet paper the wrong way on the wheel.
So stop for a moment and appreciate this man as a foil for all you find good and right in the world – perhaps you dislike him because he uses his platform to singularly write about himself or his few navel-gazy interests, or he never has anything insightful to contribute to public discourse. Pinpoint your specific irritations with this man, and then, when you happen to come across his writing, privately pity him for his shortcomings.
Trolling is not only toxic, it's pretty ineffective. Most people who've worked on the internet and social media for any length of time have learned to dismiss trolls – it's the only way to do your job and stay sane. Harassment barely registers; pity is the arrow that strikes the heart.
Marcel Duchamp’s great work, The Large Glass depicts an abstract scene. The full title: The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even. It’s conceptual and heady: “…nobody fully understands The Large Glass” says Duchamp’s biographer Calvin Tomkins.
Duchamp said it wasn’t a painting, but a “delay”: “a delay in glass as you would say a poem in prose or a spittoon in silver,” he said. “The Bride is basically a motor,” he said. The curious title implies that she owns the bachelors, but we know the work is largely about sex.
The question: is the sex the whim of the Bride, or the whim of the bachelors? To wit, is it consensual or is it rape, this stripping bare? Duchamp said that her desire was part of the machine, that she "accepts this stripping by the bachelors, since she supplies the love gasoline to the sparks of the electrical stripping; moreover, she furthers her complete nudity by adding to the first focus of sparks (electrical stripping) the 2nd focus of the desire-magneto." So, he says it is consensual, clearly, but perhaps with a puritanistic questioning, I question that it is, fully, consensual, much like I question how consensual the sexual revolution was.
In the lower half of the painting are three circles, based on optometric testing, called: the Oculist Witnesses. The witnesses have specific purpose in the work to Duchamp but I always read them as observers. They are voyeuristic, a part of the machine. They are witnessing whatever it is the bachelors and the bride are doing. They are witnessing pleasure, or witnessing sexual assault. While they witness, they have a part in the machine of the glass (to explain it would be nearly nonsensical, either outside of, or inside of, context).
And so when it comes time to watch what happens now in our country, I think of them, the three rings, the Oculist Witnesses. I think about the witnessing, on camera, that sparked #blacklivesmatter, the witnessing, on Twitter, that sparked the Arab Spring. We are all witnesses. We are a collective body. We are a head with millions of eyes, and wet meat brains to process that vision.
Everybody has to decide what is right for them, but today I don’t turn away. Today I witness. While I witness I continue my own work. When I can't witness anymore, I will turn away and someone else who can't stand not seeing any more will turn towards.
Duchamp is my metaphor, which I offer here, but perhaps others speak to you more. Mine is abstract, needlessly-complex, just outside of my full understanding, where I'm constantly chasing it like a kid who keeps kicking a hat they're trying to pick up. I like it that way. I suspect a better metaphor would be easier to hold and share, but if you are like me and the questioning is part and parcel to the question itself, then perhaps, for you too, there is the Bride. Or the Country. Start the grinders, spark the ignition, the machine is about to turn.
The Country Stripped Bare by Her Voters, Even.
Thanks to Seattle Review of Books readers Joey Pillow and @Polypodiaceae for catching our cameo appearance on tonight's Late Night with Seth Meyers, starting at the six minute mark in the video below:
Seth Meyers has been a fantastic late night host during the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, and we're thrilled to be a resource for the show. Too bad it had to be during a segment about how our incoming president is borderline illiterate.
Sunday January 22nd
Looking for Betty MacDonald Reading
Betty MacDonald’s 1945 memoir about life on the Olympic Peninsula, The Egg and I, is an underappreciated Northwest classic. Seattle-area historian Paula Becker celebrates the UW Press’s republication of three long out-of-print books by MacDonald with a reading from her book which celebrates MacDonald’s history and legacy.
Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, elliottbaybook.com . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.
Capitol Hill Seattle this morning published a post on the Queer Resurgence on Capitol Hill Poetry Slam Festival, which happens this weekend. Check out the lineup of readers here.
If you missed Tuesday night's event at the central branch of the Seattle Public Library, in which Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore interviewed Sarah Schulman, author of Conflict Is Not Abuse, a video of the event is now available on YouTube:
Indies Forward, which will focus primarily on development, networking, and mentorship, will provide educational programming specifically tailored to new and emerging booksellers, on such topics as personal finance, management, and the economics of bookstores and publishing. The group plans to set up standalone networking events as well as in conjunction with regular industry gatherings so that younger booksellers will have a greater chance of being able to attend.
PEN America just announced their literary awards finalists for the year. It's an impressive array of authors, including Teju Cole, Colson Whitehead, Yaa Gyasi, and Helen Oyeyemi.
And the National Book Critics Circle finalists have been announced. The fiction prize is a face-off between heavyweights: Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Ann Patchett, Louise Erdrich, and Adam Haslett. Also, Margaret Atwood is getting a lifetime achievement award.
Entertainment Weekly has collected every book President Obama ever recommended.
Not everyone realizes this, but every single comics store in the United States uses the exact same distributor: Diamond Comics Distributors. The collected graphic novels can be purchased directly through the publishers or through book distributors, but if you want to sell the staple-bound monthly so-called "floppies," you have to go through Diamond. There is no alternative. Diamond's last competitor, a distributor called Heroes World, was bought by Marvel Comics and then collapsed in the mid-1990s.
I bring this up because while Seattle is wet and relatively warm this week, we are surrounded on all sides by a horrifying snowscape. And the Diamond truck — the truck that carries every single comic headed to Seattle this week — can't get through the Pass. This means that no comic book store in Seattle had new comics yesterday.
It's really kind of batshit, if you think about it for a moment. If Diamond were to unexpectedly go out of business tomorrow, every comic book store in the country would be strangled for product. Dozens of shops would likely collapse within days, if not weeks, of Diamond's hypothetical closure.
Happily, while Diamond holds a monopoly on monthly comics distribution, they're not the only way for customers to get comics anymore. You can download them on your digital devices — although Comixology, the industry leader for digital comics, was bought by Amazon a while back, so you're basically trading one monopoly for another — and you can buy collected editions at your local independent bookstore. But it is very uncomfortable that all these hardworking small business owners in Seattle, many of whom have been in business for years, are reliant on one single truck making its way across a snowy mountain pass. There has to be a better model than this, is what I'm saying.
UPDATE 1/19/2017 at 1:14 pm: On Facebook, Short Run offers a terrific suggestion for a substitution for your weekly comics:
Visit Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery, Phoenix Comics and Games, Zanadu Comics, Elliott Bay Book Company, Left Bank Books Collective, and check out their LOCAL section.
On Snapchat, two reporters for brand-new news start-up Axios, Mike Allen and Jim Vandehai, interviewed President-elect Trump about his favorite books. The resulting exchange is reminiscent of Sarah Palin's most famous interview.
...what books are on your nightstand, or what's a book —
Well, you can see some of them over there. You can see some of them right over here. This is one that I just —
Which should we read? Should we read it?
No, I wouldn't say. I mean — [Laughter] It depends on whether you want to read it. This is one. It's very good.
Is there one you actually like that you'd recommend?
I like a lot of books. I like reading books. I don't have time to read very much now in terms of the books, but I like reading them. This one is just one that just came out. CNN. The CNN book just came out. I hear it's doing well.
You're plugging CNN, Mr. President-elect?
No, I'm not, actually, they just sent me those two books. I just got them. These are two books that are good: this one and this one. That one, you know.
Yet again, the distance between Trump and President Obama feels like an insurmountable chasm. Obama is a reader and a writer. Donald Trump doesn't seem to read books at all. He famously has said that he doesn't like to read reports or memos if they go over two or three pages. It is time to come to terms with the fact that our incoming president simply doesn't seem to enjoy reading.
I told you about the Brooklyn-based comics magazine Resist!, which features anti-Trump comics by cartoonists from Seattle and around the country.
It's time for the comics to hit the streets. Do you want a copy? Bleeding Cool listed the places where you can pick up Resist! this weekend. The Seattle-area locations are, in alphabetical order:
Go pick up your Resist!s this weekend (and don't forget to buy a comic or two when you do.)
Seattle’s edition of the Bushwick Book Club is named after a popular Brooklyn series in which musicians write original music in response to a popular work of literature. Since 2010, local singer/songwriters and bands have been gathering at venues ranging from the Century Ballroom to Town Hall Seattle to the Can Can to sing songs about books including Slaughterhouse-Five, The Dark Knight Returns, and Silent Spring.
The Bushwick Book Club works best if you’re familiar with the books that the artists are singing about, of course, but even without a working knowledge of, say, Pride and Prejudice, you’ll still enjoy a nice little live anthology of Seattle-area musicians. They take turns singing a song or two each, and by the time you leave the venue at the end of the night, you’ll realize you heard an astonishing variety of music: country, folk, rock, hip-hop.
There’s something to be said for live musicians collaborating with dead authors — it’s fun to imagine Hunter S. Thompson’s annoyed response to a song that completely misses the point of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for instance — but Bushwick Book Club also brings together Seattle authors with musicians in a kind of artistic exchange program. This Saturday at Town Hall, the Book Club collaborates with local writers’ organization Seattle7Writers to create music in response to water-themed passages from their books
Contributing authors include Daniel James Brown (whose UW rowing team history The Boys in the Boat became one of the unlikeliest Seattle-area bestsellers on its release four years ago,) Jennie Shortridge (author of the novels Love Water Memory and When She Flew,) and Jim Lynch (author of the excellent giant-squid novel The Highest Tide and the so-so Seattle World’s Fair novel Truth Like the Sun.) Musicians include Julia Massey, Joy Mills, Reggie Garrett, and Ben Mish.
Additionally, singer/songwriters Wes Weddell and Annie Jantzer, both of whom have been performing with the Book Club since the very beginning, will be performing. These two Bushwick veterans are consistently the most fun performers to watch. These aren’t novelty tunes dashed off on a toy xylophone. The two always provide a thoughtful reading of the book, and their songs are always heartfelt and well-constructed.
As anyone who’s ever watched a movie version of a beloved book can tell you, the art of adaptation is always, at best, imperfect. But the thing that saves Bushwick Book Club from awkwardness is the inclusion of literary criticism. The songwriters aren’t just relating plots in verse-chorus-verse format; they’re sharing their reading experiences, their understanding of the texts. That little bit of biography, of confession, of review is what elevates Bushwick from adaptation to conversation — and from conversation to art.
Our sponsor Mineral School is in the midst of receiving applications for their 2017 fellowships. Let's see if any of these describe you: an early or mid-career writer of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry? A writing parent of a child under 18? A visual artist? There are residencies for you, spanning from full subsidized one-week stays, to two week residencies for the remarkable price of $425.
Oh, and they feed you. And have visiting writers come through. And you live in an old schoolhouse in Mineral Washington, a lakeside town with a sterling view of Mount Rainier. It's a totally unique, wonderful, and productive way to hunker down and focus on writing, and writing alone. On our sponsor's page, see what Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall write about his stay at Mineral School.
Want to know more? Mineral School will be appearing on January 29th, with Hugo House, and others, at the Seattle Public Library in a session called "Residencies Revealed: Writers and Programmers Tell All".
Sponsors like Mineral School make the Seattle Review of Books possible. Did you know you could sponsor us, as well? Get your stories, or novel, or event in front of our passionate audience. We only have two dates left in our current block. Take a glance at our sponsorship information page for dates and details.
A lot of great movies adapted from written works have been released over the last month or so. Silence is a complex and challenging and ultimately rewarding adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel about the demands and responsibilities of faith. Fences is one of the most harrowing family dramas I’ve seen in years, with career-best performances from Denzel Washington and, especially, Viola Davis.
But one original movie in theaters right now, not adapted from a book or play, is a surprising tribute to the importance of the written word. I’m talking about Jim Jarmusch’s new film Paterson, and I’m telling you: if you love books and poetry and writing, you have to see this movie as soon as possible.
Paterson’s premise sounds like the setup for a limerick: Adam Driver stars as Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. The film follows a week in his life, and not a whole lot, really, happens. Paterson is a man who likes his rituals: he walks the dog to the bar every night, and he writes a few lines of poetry into his notebook in the morning, and he likes to sit in the same spot and watch the water go over Paterson Falls. He and his girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) live a quiet life that is mostly content. They could use a little more money, sure, but who couldn’t?
Paterson is a film of echoes. Certain themes repeat themselves over and over: fire, twins, rain. Paterson admires the poetry of William Carlos Williams, the city of Paterson’s most famous literary resident, and Williams’ work reverberates through the film as well. (Williams wrote an epic poem about the city also titled Paterson.) These little instances accrue into a fuller portrait, a pointillist masterpiece.
Paterson doesn’t write his poetry for the sake of immortality. He writes poetry because it’s how he processes the world. Driver reads the lines over and over in a halting voice as Paterson writes in his notebook and the handwritten words appear on screen. We see him sitting in his small office, lined with books by Williams and David Foster Wallace and Frank O’Hara, as he struggles to get the words just so. He seems to meet poets around every street corner: everyone is recording the universe in careful handwriting on lined paper in secret notebooks.
Paterson made me happier than any movie I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s a movie about art for the sake of art, a movie about writing and reading for no reason but for the pleasure of writing and reading. Paterson’s life inspires his art, which in turn inspires his life. There’s probably no big break around the corner for him. He’s probably not going to get a big thick hardcover anthology of his work. But he does it anyway, because he has to, and because it makes him better.
Trust me: you don’t want to half-watch Paterson on your couch while idly flicking through your phone. This is a movie to watch in the theater. Afterward, take public transit home. Bring a book of poetry to read on the bus or the train. Eavesdrop on some conversations. There’s art everywhere — you just have to be ready to receive it.
If you haven't yet read Michiko Kakutani's incredible interview with President Obama about his reading and writing life, you're really missing out.
The only way out is not through (bone).
When in doubt, don’t just meat or martyr.
Before cutting off your hand to spite your captor, see if you can tip the jar.
Sometimes, shoot it; when you do, aim for the gears.
If there aren’t any scissors, start a fire. If there’s room in the well, sardine.
Not every number is an incision, and not every rule is a law.
The people who call you imprisoned are begging dilemma, so recognize
when dismantling traps requires you to think like a needle
and when you’d be better off thread.
Think outside the bear trap: Cinderella would smash her glass slipper
and birdsong a key from the shards; James Bond martini a fast car
from razor wire and the last olive. Joan of Arc would put on the wrong clothes,
take her own advice, call it God; there’s an exit for you. I promise.
In the days after the election of Donald Trump, poet Erin Belieu called on Facebook for writers and readers to not give in to despair and to “actively help make the world we want to live in.” Her appeal quickly went viral, evolving into a series of nearly 80 coordinated readings around the world on Sunday January 15th. Those readings are the launch of an organization called Writers Resist. I talked with the organizers of Seattle’s Town Hall event, journalist Kristen Millares Young and novelist Sam Ligon, about their work creating the Seattle faction of Writers Resist.
So what, exactly, is Writers Resist?
Kristen Millares Young: Writers Resist is a national movement with international allies to further the cause of a just and compassionate democracy.
Sam Ligon: It's made up of local organizations that are expressing their ideals. And in the case of Seattle Writers Resist, we're interested in celebrating free speech and the American ideals of freedom and equality.
What local organizations are you working with?
KMY: First and foremost, we're working with Town Hall Seattle as a partner and a venue. Our first nonprofit that we're helping to rally support for is the ACLU of Washington.
SL: The reason we think it's important to support the ACLU and free speech is because as writers, that's what we deal in — we deal in speech. And it's our duty and obligation to exercise the right of free speech and to celebrate free speech.
KMY: There are Writers Resist events around Washington state: Bellingham, Ellensburg, Spokane, Olympia, Bainbridge Island, and Port Townsend. And each one of these events has a different social justice issue as a rallying cause. Each city is taking a different approach to their idea of what's needed for democracy to function.
SL: Ellensburg is particularly interested in immigrant rights, for example, so location is determining focus.
Why is free speech the focus in Seattle?
KMY: I think Seattle as a city needs to have a voice in the future of our nation, and it’s important that we exercise and celebrate our right to be known despite our progressive values not being in power at the moment. We as a city have a responsibility to our nation to hold these things up and keep them visible until our elected representatives see fit to celebrate them along with us.
SL: I also think in Seattle we have an incredibly rich and diverse literary community. We've got a wealth of voices in this town to speak and we want to bring those voices into play.
What is the future of Writers Resist?
KMY: I see Writers Resist keeping our community engaged in discussing civic ideas, and turning the conversation towards what we must sustain and preserve and champion. Our values are under attack in a very real way from the highest reaches of government, and as an organization, we're here to bring people together to remind them that we know what it is that makes America great.
SL: And we have an obligation to say something. You know the post-9/11 admonition to say something if you see something? We'd like to encourage writers to do that. We're all going to be seeing things — we all are seeing things — that require our speech, require us to comment upon them.
How do people get involved?
KMY: You can tweet at the national organizers. We are putting together a Facebook group. There are hashtags that people can use. One thing that people are doing is that on Fridays there is a #ReadersResist hashtag where people are finding inspirational quotes that celebrate ideals of democracy and sharing them to act as a pushback against this vitriol and empty condemnations.
We need to come at the world with something to offer, not just condemnation. We need to say, "these are the values that we believe in,” to remind people why that belief is so necessary. I think people are stirred by ideas, and so we want to stir people and to do what they can during this time.
Thanks to these Writers Resist events happening all over the world, there are about two thousand people, two thousand writers, two thousand communicators, two thousand teachers of all kinds who are now in contact with each other who weren't before. What I'm seeing happen is we've opened up communication, so that if someone has a great idea it can rise to notice quickly and be implemented.
It’s about the idea of bringing people together for teach-ins and having open channels of communication. [Those channels] essentially have been closed down as people are keeping themselves to their smaller networks and withdrawing from the horror of every day's news. We're bringing people back to that table and saying “no, there's things we can do here that are positive. It's not just feeling battered by each day. There's something we have to do.”
SL: We want an alternative to despair. Despair is not the answer right now, nor is silence. People say, "what do writers resist?" Each local organization will determine that, but we think writers resist despair. Writers resist silence. We see this as the beginning of a conversation locally, regionally, that we hope to continue. And we hope this evolves into a larger, richer discussion.
KMY: We don't know how people are going to respond to this. One thing we suggested they could do would be to bring these ideals into their book clubs. It doesn't necessarily have to be a Writers Resist-themed thing, but if people in book clubs say "we're going to be reading writings on freedom, writings on equality,” they’ll be encouraging people who are already talking to each other to discuss things that are important to our democracy.
SL: We’re already rallying support to places like the ACLU that's a national organziation. Going forward, we want to support local organizations like Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
KMY: Here in Washington state, we have a state legislator who proposed to categorize peaceful protest as economic terrorism. That's not going to fly, but at the same time, it’s important to say that we condemn that, that this is wrong. There are things we need to do to raise up the values that we want to see. If we don't do it, who will?
SL: We want to make America great again, is what we're saying.
One week after joining the Black Panthers, Alfred Woodfox was arrested for robbery. Implicated in the murder of a prison guard, he spent 41 years in solitary confinement, longer than any American in history. His story, documented by Rachel Aviv, is one of extraordinary strength of mind — and the willful persistence of independence despite unbelievable social and physical constraints.
On February 19, 2016, his sixty-ninth birthday, Woodfox packed his belongings into garbage bags and put about a hundred letters in a cardboard box. He put on black slacks and a black bomber jacket that a freed Angola prisoner had sent him.
Not until he was outside did he believe that he was actually going to be freed. It was a warm, clear, sunny day. He squinted and held the hem of his jacket. When he reached the front gate, he raised his fist and gave a closed-lip smile to a small crowd of supporters.
Michael led him to his car, a blue Corvette. Woodfox shuffled when he walked, as if shackles still connected his feet. Biting his lip and crying, Michael helped his brother into the passenger seat and showed him how to fasten the seat belt.
Robert McCrum has a delightfully bookish profile of Heather Wolfe, whose contribution to Shakespeare scholarship should but probably will not close the age-old question of who wrote the most celebrated plays in the English language. Among her other work is “Project Dustbunny,” which analyzes hair, dust, and skin to trace the habits of 17th century readers. Dr. Wolfe, we are at your feet.
Dr Wolfe is a willowy, bright-eyed manuscript scholar, a paleographer specialising in Elizabethan England who in certain moods of candour might put you in mind of Portia or perhaps Cordelia. She’s also a Shakespeare detective who, last year, made the career-defining discovery that is going to transform our understanding of Shakespeare’s biography. In the simplest terms, Wolfe delivered the coup de grace to the wild-eyed army of conspiracy theorists, including Vanessa Redgrave and Derek Jacobi, who contest the authenticity, even the existence, of the playwright known to contemporaries as Master Will Shakespeare.
Petty pleasure or genuine act of defiance, there’s something viscerally satisfying about Richard Prince’s decision to disown his own creation after its purchase by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Prince has been called a flim-flam man and worse for selling art based on images lifted from Instagram, but like the artists who have refused to perform at the inauguration on January 20 — and unlike Silicon Valley’s tech elite — he’s hitting Trump in the only place that seems to hurt: the president-elect’s delicate ego.
Jerry Saltz on learning to fight on a new cultural and political battlefield.
Even if this en masse disowning is only an isolated action, limited to those artists lucky enough to live off their work, just a drip in the middle of this building shitstorm of a presidency, I gleaned an artist trying to take back his name, his work, do something, anything. To do this in a time that is calling to us all to take action rather than to simply default, using our energies to criticize how others use their energy.
Prince's act of disownership opens up an incredible window of resistance.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect, a cautionary tale for American media from Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev.
This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice ... Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.
If you can set aside the irony of yet another online essay railing against the Internet — which is gutting our attention spans, killing our ability to experience the sublime, and probably kicks puppies when nobody’s looking — Craig Mod has some good reminders about what happens when we turn on the content spigot and why we should occasionally turn it off.
Today, I could live on Twitter all day, everyday, convincing myself I was being productive. Or, at least inducing the chemicals in the mind that make me feel like I’m being productive. Read more news. Send more replies. Start more threads. Each incoming reply activating a corresponding dopamine pop. Largely pushing nothing in the world forward.
Maybe I lost my attention because I’m weak, lonely, pathetic. Maybe everyone else has total control; they can resist all the information spun by algorithms — all the delicious dopamine hits in the form of red circles. Bing! Maybe it’s just me.
But … I want my attention back.