The Weekly Good/ The Activist Writer

When Rimbaud became a slave trader, he stopped writing poetry. Poetry and slave trading cannot be bedfellows.”
— Chinua Achebe, from his 1994 interview in the Paris Review
 Photo credit: ©amygigialexander 2014/ Ngabe girl with dove, Comarca Bugle, Panama  

Photo credit: ©amygigialexander 2014/ Ngabe girl with dove, Comarca Bugle, Panama

The weekly good today is about shining a light in a dark world: the melding of activism and writing into one.

Lately, I've felt loss. So much hate, snarkiness, and cynicism in the world I'm watching. Worst of all, that killer of souls, apathy. I've been searching for hefty examples of leadership, words, and encouragement from the wealth of the literary world over the last few weeks. Part of me has wondered what I, as a writer, can do to make the world better.

Sometimes I think I am making it better: telling stories about places in way that evokes what is beautiful even when it is painful; going places and showing the world, blown wide open; and using my own life and struggles to hopefully inspire others to move beyond where they are and think of themselves as more fluid than stuck.

But that's not enough, and I've been wondering why. The world seems to be going to dark places, and lighting it up takes more and more effort.

And yet, there is this light, isn't there? It's not just an empty wish for things to be brighter: it's a real and lasting light dancing in and out of shadows that we are trying to capture.

Chinua Achebe, in the quote above,  is referring to activism and its relationship to the writer. He's not talking about hope or wishy washy sentiments: he's saying that it's very clear to him that writing and shining the light in the dark places are requirements of being a writer. That it's important to speak aloud, to be seen, to be a strong beacon. That one cannot exist without the other for the literary. Narcissism is writing left on its own, stranded and admiring its reflection, but paired with some form of activism, the whole world shows up.

And I find this stunningly hopeful.

Writing is important work. It is not lofty, but humble, earthy, on the ground. One must lie on the floor and listen to the rumblings. One must look all directions in one's life. One must go deeper than just filling a page with words. Writing has the power to help other people see things differently, without telling them how, but showing them.

To me, being an activist in my writing life means to continue doing what I'm doing now, but not to get too comfortable, to keep pushing out at the edges, little by little. For others, pairing activism with writing will look different, and could translate into a multitude of things.  There are so many ways a writer could bring it into their work: it could be a moment that is personal and shared; or a gentle leading of the reader a new direction; or creating content with new integrity; or even letting go of smoothness and launching into the uneven territory of anger. This kind of pairing can fit into any kind of writing:  the important thing is that the writer is illuminating something. It doesn't have to be devastating, or detailed, but it has to say:

Here is my voice, let me show you something you missed: here is a glimmer of integrity, here are words I am not paid to say,  here is truth and beauty, here is my humanity, here is an injustice made right by my voice, here I am in the open.

Whether it is a glimpse or the writer is able to maintain being in the open for longer periods, both are examples of activism and writing coming together. And both are necessary, because right now, more than ever, we need writers to take up the torch, and light up the world with words.