Monthly Archives: April 2018

Using Fiction to Make a Difference, By C. Hope Clark

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Using Fiction to Make a Difference

By C. Hope Clark

 hope 2014-06-13 16.56.56 (2)Writing for peace . . . writing for any cause . . . usually comes in the form of nonfiction. The narrative essay, the journalism piece, the academic study. These days we’re bombarded with so many headlines, causes, and pressure to take a stand, that the noise is deafening.

Pundits shout. Protesters yell. Few can hold a calm, civil conversation and discuss the issues in a normal tone of voice. There are many people in the world who want to hear the discussion, or better understand the need for peace and understanding, but they’re so weary of the cacophony that they close their ears, and therefore, their minds.

When I was a child, I was taught that to teach your religion you have to live it by example, not shout it, and not force it upon others. In other words, people are more prone to want to learn about your religion when they see it in practice, and witness how remarkable a life it can mold. Writers seek to show don’t tell in their stories. In life, to tell someone how great that religion is doesn’t work nearly as well as showing. And of course shouting about it works least of all.

The same goes for peace. Whether talking immigration, guns, war, or political asylum, we cannot demand change. It’s counterintuitive. So how do we set the example for these sorts of issues and reach more people in a more convincing manner?

Fiction.

Storytelling has existed since the invention of language. Before man could write, he was passing down stories from generation to generation by talking around the campfire. Surely some were embellished, much like the game of whispering in someone’s ear, then they whisper the same story in someone else’s ear, then so on around the circle . . . only for the end result to be altered. However, the point of the story usually remained intact. The embellishment usually was made to create a more memorable point.

Poetry has long been a courier of communication, putting difficult topics into lyrical prose. To make it more palatable? Maybe. To dramatize a subject? Also, maybe. But if it opens up someone’s ears so that they listen to the message, then poetry is powerful.

The same goes for fiction.

Jean Kwok was a child when her family immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn. Her multi-award-winning novels center around families uprooted and acclimating in new countries. Girl in Translation is her most popular and powerful, painting a story very similar to her own life.

The novels Border Child and The Iguana Tree were written by Michele Stone, a noted South Carolina author, with an emphasis on Mexican border crossings. She personalized the plight of Mexican immigrants through the effects on the children. Touching and poignant, the books have been recommended as reading in some school districts.

Before You Know Kindness, by Chris Bohjalian, depicts the issue of gun control in fiction, when a man’s young daughter accidentally shoots him, shattering the family dynamic.

Noted suspense/thriller author Heather Graham danced with human trafficking in A Dangerous Game, from her New York Confidential series.

Author Angie Thomas published The Hate U Give, about a cop killing an unarmed teenager, and how the community ripped itself apart taking different stances on the why and how it all went down. Who was right? Who knows the real answer, and what really is real?

Fiction allows the reader to be impartial, absorb the story, and envision how critical topics like these seriously impact people without the spin of television news, when doors are shut and nobody’s watching. Enabling the reader to view things three-dimensionally, witnessing how issues affect individuals rather than politics and journalism. And this type of storytelling, like with our ancestors long before us, sticks in the mind.

Want to write about issues? Before you consider a journalism feature, editorial, or an edgy blog post, step back. What if you told the world a story instead? A fiction story with all the realism of life. Capture people’s minds and hearts by depicting painful need through a tale.

Then once you have their attention, and you’re all talking nicely about the book, you can morph into the real facts . . . and possibly made headway toward real change.

 

Hope Newberry Sin FINAL COVER (2)BIO: Mystery author C. Hope Clark’s newest release is Newberry Sin, set in an idyllic small Southern town where blackmail and sex are hush-hush until they become murder. The fourth in the Carolina Slade Mysteries. Hope speaks to conferences, libraries, and book clubs across the country, is a regular podcaster for Writer’s Digest, and adores connecting with others. She is also founder of FundsforWriters.com, an award-winning site and newsletter service for writers.  She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina with her federal agent husband where they spin mysteries just for fun.

Many thanks to C. Hope Clark for sharing her insights with us. To learn more about her mystery series, visit her at www.chopeclark.com, and follow her wonderful blog tour! Check out the trailer here: The C. Hope Clark blog tour trailer

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Young Writers contest

The Young Writers contest results have been delayed until Tuesday, May 8th. Check our blog for results next week. Apologies for the wait!

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In Memoriam, Sam Hamill (1943-2018)

Happier times with Sam Hamill. From left to right, Phillip Richards, Sam Hamill, Carmel Mawle, and Lorraine Currelley

Happier times: (Left to right) Phillip Richards, Sam Hamill, Carmel Mawle, and  Lorraine Currelley.

In Memoriam, Sam Hamill (1943-2018)

By Carmel Mawle

Sam once told me that he thought I’d move away from writing prose. Our flights had been delayed after his reading in New York, and he’d seen a short verse I’d written for my daughter. “You’re a poet,” he said. “You just haven’t accepted it, yet.”

Coming from anyone else, I would have long ago forgotten those words. Sam was down-to-earth and approachable, but despite his lack of pretension, his contribution to the art of poetry, to the collective body of literature, and to peace activism is unparalleled. I listened to Sam, and though we had our occasional differences, I often came around to his way of seeing things. Sam always gave me the time to do that. He was one of our earliest advisers, a mentor, and a friend.

When a man like Sam Hamill dies, there should be a collective pause, a contemplative stillness. Of course, it doesn’t happen. The sun sets, and rises again, and those of us whose lives were transformed by Sam (and we are so many), are left with both an ending and a beginning.

For us, there must be a quiet moment to breathe in the cold air of this new reality – a world without Sam – and then we’ll need to gather ourselves and begin again, to continue onward without him. Through his life and writings, he left us a well-lit path. It will be our life-time task to follow it, in as many ways as we are individuals. Sam would want that for us.

I’m still writing prose – the stories he knew I would have to write – but it’s possible I’ll come around to his way of seeing things. He’s given me plenty of time.

(Photograph by Ian Boyden, 2017)

(Photograph by Ian Boyden, 2017)

Sam Hamill Official Obituary [September 5, 1943 – April 14, 2018]

When the first poetry books from Copper Canyon Press went on sale in 1972, they were revelatory showing that the humble technology of the book could be, and indeed should be, an artifact of craftsmanship itself. Copper Canyon elevated the publishing of poetry books to an art of intrinsic beauty as exemplars of the printer’s craft. One of the driving forces behind this new guild craftsmanship was poet, editor, publisher, translator and fine printer Sam Hamill who died at his home in Anacortes, WA on April 14, 2018. Mr. Hamill was 74.

Arguably no one did more for the art of poetry in all its manifestations in the latter half of the 20th century and early 21st than Mr. Hamill. Born to a carnival fry cook at the end of WWII, Hamill was put up for adoption at the age of three by a father who felt the carnival life was no place for a child. Hamill grew up in Utah, the adopted son of educated poultry farmers who had a deep love of literature and history. As such, the young orphan was steeped in the language and poetry of Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, and Frost by the time he reached puberty. As Hamill has said in interviews, his adopted father would lull him to sleep night after night reading the canonical poems of the English language. These would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Growing up in a home where poetry was spoken out loud, Hamill in later years insisted poetry should always begin in the ear as a spoken form imbued with the rhythm of the heart. He distrusted poems that clearly came into being on the soulless medium of a computer screen with spellcheck. The many recordings of his spoken poetry on CD and tape attest to this resonant craftsmanship that began in his tympanum as a child. Hamill has been praised by his peers for having one of the finest reading voices for poetry in the English language.

In 1973, Hamill garnered a $500 award for editorial excellence for his work on the student paper at University of California Santa Barbara. Poet Kenneth Rexroth, who taught there, had taken Hamill under his wing after the younger poet ran away from home in his late teens to find his place in the poetic renaissance of the Beats on the West Coast. With prize money in hand, Hamill became the Founding Editor of Copper Canyon Press. Tree Swenson (subsequently director of the Academy of American Poets and Hugo House) and poet, translator, author and friend, William O’Daly were co-founders.

Jim Harrison has said: “Hamill has reached the category of a National Treasure though I’d doubt he’d like the idea.” This doubtless pertains because Hamill was by his own admission forever the outsider in the high-status world of Pulitzer Prizes and academic accolades. He never sought employment in academia, instead taught in prisons. He held fast to the belief that poetry was a sacred craft irrespective of the newest trends lauded by East coast taste setters. Copper Canyon in its heyday, from the early 1970s through to the latter 1990s, published some of the finest poets in any language, including David Lee, Olga Broumas, William Stafford, Jaan Kaplinski and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, in crafted books that were singularly beautiful. Its catalog was always eclectic, unique, revelatory. It is perhaps as publisher and editor at Copper Canyon Press that Hamill made his enduring mark. Hamill has been credited with single-handedly resurrecting the careers of such masters as Hayden Carruth, Thomas McGrath, and latterly Kenneth Rexroth in the seminal work in one volume, The Collected Poems of Kenneth Rexroth (2003), which Hamill meticulously co-edited. Poets across the spectrum remain indebted to Hamill for how assiduously he championed them in their formative years. He was also a renowned letterpress printer and it infused every aspect of his work.

Hamill published four books of literary prose, seventeen books of poetry, alongside many well-regarded translations and innumerable broadsides. His early collected works, Destination Zero 1970-1995, garnered sincere praise from such luminaries as W.S. Merwin, Donald Hall and Denise Levertov. Indeed, he has been acclaimed worldwide for the lyricism of his poems, perhaps nowhere with more enthusiasm than in Latin America. His poems unfold in the direct language of the spoken word, with a clear eye to the natural world. Stripped of artifice or academic embellishment, these poems have been acknowledged as some of the finest by a minor poet in the American literary canon. He was also an able and respected translator from many languages, and his translations of the great Asian poets such as Du Fu, Li Po, and Wang Wei, and latterly haiku masters such as Basho and Issa, have never been superseded. As for Hamill’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, it is said that the: “extraordinary strength is that it has captured the poetry of Lao Tzu’s original without sacrificing the resonance of the text’s many meanings and possible interpretations.”

After an invitation to the White House in the winter of 2003 by then First Lady Laura Bush, Hamill publicly renounced the invitation and founded the organization Poets Against War (PAW), which sought to use poetry to oppose the Iraq War. Within a year, many thousands of poets had published anti-war poems on the PAW website, and a bestseller of selected poems was put out by The Nation Press under the same name. It inspired a worldwide movement of films and festivals dedicated to the poetry of pacifism. While this act of literary rebellion put Hamill squarely in the national zeitgeist, in later years he was to lament that PAW seemed to overshadow his lifelong vow to the art of poetry, to his own work as a fine poet, translator, publisher and printer. Overlooked were his twelve years as editor at the American Poetry Review or that he had served thirty years with the Port Townsend Writer’s Conference in Washington, including 10 years as their Director. In the wake of his nationally covered protest, the east coast establishment seemingly ignored all this modest poet had done for poetry spanning a fifty-five year career. To the end of his productive life, Hamill remained a fiercely independent and outspoken poet.

Hamill’s quiet generosity transformed the lives of many individuals. He never hesitated to help those in need, whether it was a gift of knowledge, time or means.

Hamill received many honors and awards, including NEA, Guggenheim, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Lila Wallace – Reader’s Digest Fund, and Woodrow Wilson Foundation fellowships, The Stanley Lindberg Lifetime Achievement Editor’s Award from the Rainier Writing Workshop – Pacific Lutheran University, Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry from the Washington Poets Association, two Washington State Governor’s Writers Day Awards, the First Amendment Award from PEN USA, a US Japan Friendship Commission Fellowship, and was awarded the Decoración de la Universidad de Carabobo in Venezuela. Hamill is predeceased by his wife of many years, the painter and artist Gray Foster.

Hamill is survived by his daughter, Eron Hamill and her husband Roger Mah of Richmond, BC and by his partner, Juniper White. As Hamill wrote in his introductory poem of Destination Zero: “It is enough, perhaps/ to say – We live here/ And let it go at that.” In the case of this wise poet, a poignant truth.

Copyright © 2018 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Speak Out for the Right Reasons, by Kira Marshall-McKelvey

“When we’re constantly feeling good about ourselves, putting our altruism on our CVs, how selfless an act is it really?”

Speak Out for the Right Reasons

By Kira Marshall-McKelvey

I am a member of Colorado State University Speakout! program, a community that facilitates weekly writing workshops with incarcerated and at-risk youth populations. I have been participating in these workshops at the Larimer County Jail with fellow students since January, and have been amazed, inspired, and in awe of the work that comes out of these workshops. I am delightedly envious of the poetry that seems to slide off the tongues of these writers, and inspired by their bravery in telling difficult, heart-wrenching stories with such grace and poise. While it may sound cliché, the lessons I have learned about rhyme schemes, writing from the heart, and tempo have come from Wednesday nights at the jail.

As we charge towards the end of the semester, however, I must take a step back and consider why I’m doing this work, and who is truly benefitting from these workshops. At a Speakout! training a few months ago, the guest speaker reminded us that the bar is set tremendously low for volunteers—we are blindly accepted as do-gooders, as inspirational, as selfless.

When we’re constantly feeling good about ourselves, putting our altruism on our CVs, how selfless an act is it really?

This is not a Speakout!-specific problem—there is a certain danger to embodying, or even accepting, the holier-than-thou identity that can come with volunteer work. There are troubling power dynamics associated with the idea that we, the volunteers, are bestowing our knowledge and wisdom on “the Other.” When we say we want to empower others by giving them a voice—but leave the jail with a “helping people high”—who benefits?

This isn’t to say that empowerment isn’t a noble goal. We cannot scorn the hope of giving the marginalized a space to speak, to exist freely, but spending an hour a week in a jail doesn’t give us claim to say we “get it.” Writing and publishing about our work with these writers is a tremendous privilege—it is a demonstration of power. And it all too often leaves out the voices of those we tried to include in the first place.

Frequently revisiting the “why am I here?” question is necessary in volunteer contexts, and the answer can change. I entered Speakout! with the intention to help others, to give them a space to write and create. Now I recognize the complexities in using language that implies I am “giving” something. My work at CSU challenges me to question stereotypes about incarcerated individuals, and to reject the low-bar that the public has set for volunteers.

We may accept the nuances and ambiguities with volunteer work while still finding merit in engaging in these workshops. We can want to help while recognizing the privilege in doing so. We can realize that there are multiple benefitters from this work, and that we, in fact, have been receiving wisdom from those we wanted to help all along.

Kira WFP (3)Kira Marshall-McKelvey is a second year Masters student in Rhetoric and Composition at Colorado State University. She teaches college composition and writes in the areas of digital feminism, Native American rhetoric, and prison literacy. She works with incarcerated writers as a member of CSU’s Speakout! program, and serves as social media intern for Writing for Peace. When she is not working or studying, she enjoys going on hikes, doing yoga, and hanging out with her two delightful cats.

Copyright © 2018 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.