We got back from AWP Sunday evening. I spent four days there doing only two things: Kattywompus Press work (mostly meeting and talking with hundreds of wonderful writers), and socializing with writer friends who I don’t get to see often enough. Late in the evening, I would turn to the TV for one thing: news from Egypt. A friend in Chicago emailed me, surprised that I was unaware of the locked down, locked in state of that city. I apologized and told her, the only news I was following was from Egypt.
I’ll probably write more here about AWP–an overwhelming conference and massive book fair–some other time. But today, I start the Editor’s Blog with Egypt. Why? Surely, as a new literary small press, fresh from a massive writers’ conference, there would be more timely topics.
I want to say that freedom, and justice, and the deep-seated human urge towards them, is someplace near the heart of writing. Writing can do little more than serve as a conduit for our longing, and if we are very, very fortunate, a conduit for light. Human longing and the need to make art of all kinds are inextricably intertwined.
So when I watch our brothers and sisters, night and day and night, in Tahrir Square, I am watching as a writer, yes. As a writer, I recall Tainanmen Square, and the crushing defeat of hope. I remember also the strange and wonderful moment when Havel rose to power through the velvet revolution. A poet-president. Imagine.
At AWP, somewhere amongst the barrage of things I read was a comment about the writer’s need for empathy. It seems like a paradox, though it’s not really: though we dwell, of necessity, in that private interior world where writing germinates, we cannot capture true any real human experience, or perhaps any experience of the world at all, without writing from empathy. We have to be inside what we write, and inside it lovingly, to get it right. The natural extension of that love in the world is compassion and the passion for social justice. So long as our brothers and sisters remain in Tahrir Square, so too are we there. They speak for all of us, for the freedom of everyone. And in our small ways we must speak for them, if only to keep the topic alive in conversations, at readings, on social media.
There is much more, and much worse happening there than the American mainstream media is purveying. Here are some sources:
- Journalists targeted: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/weekinreview/06held.html
- Ongoing coverage: http://english.aljazeera.net/
- Writers at the Rumpus (no relation to the Wompus) ruminate, lots of good links: http://therumpus.net/2011/02/the-latest-from-egypt-2/