I hope this finds you well and looking forward to spring.
In the midst of much change and chaos in our country, I have been reflecting about the role of a writer. The US Department of Arts and Culture has said that, “In order to thrive, Democracy needs all our voices.” As writers, our words serve as bridge to hearing the voices of others, including those who have been silenced, marginalized and/or misunderstood. We spend our days getting inside “the other”. How might we use our voices to attain peace and justice and to advocate for distributing services to ensure basic needs are met for all?
- Open our eyes to see “the other” in our midst. That person, or group of people, whose life or lives looks so different from ours. We must be ready to encounter from within, our own harsh messages of judgment and lay them aside in the service of greater truth.
- Compile a list of questions. Start with a question to which the answer seems obvious…to the one posing the question. Often therein lies our basic misunderstanding. Do a little research. Review the questions for biases, admit them, and then rewrite the questions with honest intent to gain understanding.
- Approach the person(s) to be interviewed with respect and assurance that the interviewer will first use active listening, allowing the voice of the other to be heard. Use the writer’s skills: interviewing, research, active listening, fact checking.
- Consider what has not been said. Consider especially the gifts and strengths of the other. Probe for deeper understanding.
- Examine the raw material. Who will be the audience? Who needs to hear this story?
- Consider that more research may be needed, and perhaps a follow up interview.
- Examine any theoretical and/or political underpinnings of those being interviewed as well as one’s own. Address directly in the story.
- Enlist as participants those whose stories need to be heard by asking them what story they think needs to be told. And accept their help in making the story in order to serve a fuller truth and to avoid cultural appropriation.
- Intend then to write stories that live as art, and not as political propaganda.
For years, I carried around “The Hero and the Blues” written by Albert Murray, American essayist, critic and novelist, in which he said it is the writer who sounds the warning bell to show when a time is out of joint. We live in our time, tied to it, shaped by it, and shaping it. Stories of witness, whether personal or political, individual or social, local or global, help our culture to understand the human heart of the matter. Let us then, get to the heart of the matter.
Call to Action: Write one piece as witness, whether fiction or nonfiction.
Join me at the Mark Twain House for a special one day workshop on this topic in late May or early June. More info. soon.