Category Archives: Board Contributors

My Mother’s Funeral, A Review by Robert Kostuck

Adriana Paramo, Writing for Peace AdviserMY MOTHER’S FUNERAL

by Adriana Páramo

CavanKerry Press, 2013, 258 pp., $21.00, ISBN 1-933880-39-2

A Review, by Robert Kostuck

In My Mother’s Funeral, Adriana Páramo slips between her mother Carmen’s life before children, her own childhood memories, and the present—wake, funeral, cremation. Woven into these personal experiences is an omnipresent Columbia: the open spaces of Mariquita, the squalid poverty of Medellín and Bogotá, rival drug gangs, politics, Catholicism, the Communist Party revisited.

Objectivity is difficult to achieve in a book-length essay; Ms. Páramo, however, succeeds admirably—she gently and firmly pieces together the tapestry of the mother and daughter relationship; readers will find common themes presented in even-handed and sometimes startling prose. Her writing is educational without being didactic; emotional without being sentimental.

Politics in Colombia were harsh in the 1950s. Her rarely-seen father, ‘Mr. B’, a cachiporro (liberal), seduces the innocent Carmen, and after the wedding rushes her away from her home—a few hours ahead of the godos (conservatives). First night together is spent in a whorehouse; for the remainder of the marriage Mr. B comes and goes as he pleases, impregnating Carmen and then vanishing for months or years at a time. At one point her sister Dalila acquires a partially-decomposed adult male human skeleton—courtesy of a ‘snatcher’, recommended by the nuns—and together sister and mother boil and clean the bones. Assembled, Dalila receives her coveted A+ in anatomy and the unnamed skeleton literally hangs around the house, a possible replacement for the missing Mr. B.

The baby of the family, Adriana curls up with her mother in the kitchen or in bed, listening to the stories of the world filtered through a tabletop radio: sports, agony aunties, soap operas, tangos, boleros; Carmen singing along with the radio, Adriana, watching her mother “morph into a woman”.

“Tal vez mañana puedas comprender / Que siempre fui sincera / Tal vez por alguien llegues a saber / Que todavia te quiero. Maybe later you might understand / That I was always sincere / Perhaps someone will help you see / That I still love you.”

Childhood for Adriana, is a combination of head-long curiosity and goofy naiveté. Carmen, and to a lesser extent, her sisters, guide and guard the young Adriana. Memory is selective; what Adriana shows us is how this mother shapes her daughters: strict, efficient, economical—she maintains a poor but tidy home and life for her children. Lessons by word or example are rarely repeated; they become the very fibers of her daughter’s body and personality. Toward the end of the memoir, Adriana writes,

“Our financial situation started to improve when we moved to Medellín, and Dalila, Amanda, and Ligia got secretarial jobs that required them to wear nylons, high heels, and modest suits. Eventually they began going back to school at night, but they never stopped working, never stopped rescuing Mom and their two younger sisters from the constant panic of uncertainty. I owe everything I am to the women in my family—to my sisters and Mom. Nobody else.”

This is the heart of the memoir: what a daughter learns from her mother: how to be a girl, how to become a woman; and when that mother begins to fade from autumn into winter, how to become her mother. When Carmen, beset by Alzheimer’s, visits Adriana the wife and mother at her new home in Alaska, she relates a story about her pregnancy with Adriana so at odds with the life lessons she’d imparted over the years that her daughter feels an urge to “. . . jump into the lake and sink slowly into its frigid waters.” The fantastic and heartbreaking revelation adds another thin, sharp layer to this complex mother and daughter relationship.

Returning to Colombia in torn jeans and a gypsy blouse, Adriana arrives at the wake, faces somber and seemingly more mature sisters and a brother. Funerals are holidays for the dead, a time when far-flung family reunite and wonder aloud what went right and what went wrong. Her sisters and brother are emotional but methodical—Adriana feels like the only one with an incomparable loss—the woman who as a child promised her mother that she would always remain her little girl. A few days stretches into a painful eternity, and when the siblings return home to divide Carmen’s possessions, Adriana is nostalgic, then practical:

“I imagine landing in Miami, trying to make it through customs with a fern, a plastic chair, a flyswatter, a river stone, and a broom, and I have to laugh at my childishness. I discard my mental list. Instead I take a pair of earrings that belonged to my grandmother, (. . .) a photo of the six women—my four sisters, Mom, and me—that my brother took the day I left Colombia; the locket with a photo of my daughter that Mom wore around her neck like an amulet. I also seize the printout of Mom’s last EKG, taken two days ago.

“(. . .) I don’t know this yet but in six years I will look at this EKG and realize that the ink is fading away and with it the only existing traces of Mom’s heartbeat. I’ll have it tattooed around my left bicep, much to my family’s dismay, so that her heartbeat and mine will always be together.”

My Mother’s Funeral is the literal translation of that EKG tattoo, spanning decades, continents, and lives; a heartbeat that remains long after we scan the final page and move on into the days to come.

Robert Kostuck, Writing For Peace Guest WriterRobert Kostuck graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Masters in Education. His published work appears in the Kenyon Review, Concho River Review, Zone 3, Tiferet: Literature, Art, and the Creative Spirit, Silk Road, and others.

Writing for Peace News

Onward Into 2014!

Last year brought growth and many exciting firsts for Writing For Peace. Here’s a brief overview of 2013:

In 2013 our Advisers continued to demonstrate a commitment to peace and the power of writing through their work, their inspirational blog posts, brilliant ideas such as Mary Carroll-Hackett’s educational Facebook page for young writers, MCH-What’s Going On? and Pilar Rodriguez Aranda’s efforts to reach Spanish speaking young writers by translating our 2014 contest guidelines. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Sam Hamill‘s new and revised translated collection of Chinese poetry, Crossing the Yellow River is being published by Tiger’s Bark Press. His Selected Poems (not yet titled) will be published by Lost Horse Press in September 2014.
  • Lorraine Currelley was selected as an Artist-in-Residence for the 2014 Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide (SPARC) and as a new member of the Pearls of Wisdom Storytellers. Her Poets Network & Exchange will publish their first poetry anthology in 2014.
  • Veronica Golos is working on a new book, Root Work: The Lost Writings of John Brown and Mary Day Brown. “Of course John Brown was a great abolitionist and so was his wife, Mary and she also had 13 children. I have Ghost Code poems and Runaway poems also in the book. This is a way to make history live again, to get inside it so to speak.”
  • Richard Krawiec supports a community of writers and activists through education and his ever expanding Jacar Press.
  •  Maija Rhee Devine spoke with young people in South Korea and the United States about her award-winning books, The Voices of Heaven and Long Walks on Short Days, her experiences as a young girl during the Korean War, and her work with Korean Comfort Women.
  • Dr. Margaret Flowers continues her peace and healthcare activism. She currently serves as Secretary of Health on the Green Shadow Cabinet. Her recent article, Major Social Transformation Is a Lot Closer Than You May Realize — How Do We Finish the Job?, is also co-written with Kevin Zeese, and published on AlterNet.
  • Adriana Paramo‘s new memoir, My Mother’s Funeral, explores the volatile relationship with her mother, and their love that defies cultural forces, Bogotá street violence, and Medellin drug lords.

This is just a sampling of the wonderful work all our advisers do. Please watch our blog for their posts, follow their work, and support the poets and authors whose writings and activism encourage a more thoughtful and peaceful world.

In 2014, we look forward to hearing from Board Member Andrea W. Doray, who recently returned from Nepal, and to continued growth – including the occasional review on our blog! On this first day of the New Year, we welcome guest writer, Robert Kostuck, who reviews Adriana Paramo’s memoir, My Mother’s Funeral.

Happy New Year, Writers for Peace! And thank you for your ongoing support!

 

Copyright © 2014 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for directions since 9/11, by Andrea W. Doray

Another September 11 has come and gone, but our shock and grief lives on. Here’s a real-time look at how 9/11 felt to me…then and now.

Searching for directions since 9/11

By Andrea W. Doray

Tuesday, September 11, 2001: Driving to work, running late. Hearing the news reports breaking into the oldies rock radio station. Listening—breathless, heart pounding—as the description changes from a small plane hitting the Twin Towers to what’s really happening. Speeding up, driving too fast, dodging other dazed motorists. Parking my car frantically at the nearest entrance. Running up the stairs to my office and my coworkers. Scanning the shocked faces, hearing people on the telephone. Calling my own family. Decamping with my colleagues to the conference room. Gathering around the only television in the building. Exchanging sounds of bewilderment. Falling silent, attempting to absorb the events. Supporting those who go home to their families. Learning of AA Flight 77. Wallowing in disbelief. Working with HR to order pizza, lots of pizza, for the hundreds of employees in our organization. Learning of UA Flight 93. Staring, glazed over, at the television, disregarding my responsibilities. Driving home. Running to my neighbor’s door, too shocked, too numb, to cry.

Wednesday, September 12, 2001: Watching in horror, again and again. Learning the extent, the significance. Trying to reach friends, or friends of friends, or family of friends on the East coast. Imagining what it looked like to be there, what it smelled like, sounded like, felt like. Feeling fear, anger, confusion. Sleepwalking, in the daytime.

Thursday, September 13, 2001: Accepting the eerie silence in the skies. Cringing when only the military jets swoop overhead. Reading, watching, listening to the news. Scrutinizing the lists of the victims, the rescuers, the dead, the missing. Holding family close.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002: Finishing the last leg of a cycling trip through the Loire Valley. Being welcomed for the previous two weeks in French homes and chateaus. Accepting warm hospitality. Receiving a map and directions—in French—to our chambre d’hôte when we were lost. Appreciating the gratitude of the people in France for American forces during World War II.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002: Arriving by train in Paris. Dragging my luggage and cycling gear down the sidewalks from the station. Pausing at newsstands where New York is burning on all the front pages. Buying papers and magazines printed in French to take home. Taking photos of smoking buildings on posters in the shops. Stepping in to Notre Dame at noon. Seeing the signs in French: Nous nous souvenons et nous prions! Messes pour les victimes des attentats et pour la paix! Reading the signs in English: Special services in memory of 9/11/2001 – we pray for peace. Stopping at the banks of candles flickering in the shadows. Seeing it propped behind the warm glow against the cold stone blocks of the cathedral walls. Recognizing the red, white, blue. Photographing the miniature American flag stapled to a slim stick. Praying for peace.

September 11, 2013: Imagining what it looked like to be there, what it smelled like, sounded like, felt like. Feeling fear, anger, confusion, and profound sadness. Displaying miniature American flags stapled to a stick in flowerpots on my porch. Holding family close. Searching for a map and directions—in any language. Praying for peace.

 ###

Searching for directions since 9/11  was previously published in Alchemy, and reprinted here with permission.

About Andrea Doray

Andrea Doray, Writing for Peace Board MemberAndrea Doray is an author who serves on the board of directors for the international organization Writing for Peace. Learn more about her work here.

 

 

Writing for PeaceWriting for Peace News

Congratulations To Our New Young Advisers

Writing for Peace is pleased to introduce two remarkable young peace activists, the founding members of our new panel of Young Advisers. Both have shown an extraordinary commitment to peace. Check their pages and watch our blog for their inspirational posts.

Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young AdviserNatan Blanc is an Israeli who refused to serve in the IDF (Israeli army) “because of its actions against the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.” Natan held fast to his convictions, despite being jailed ten times.

Lyla June Johnston, Writing for Peace Young AdviserLyla June Johnston is a Navajo poet and peace activist from Taos, New Mexico, who has found her home in the service of humanity.

Writing for Peace is accepting nominations of young activists, writers, and artists, for our new panel of Young Advisers. Please send nominations by email, along with the reasons for your nomination and contact information to editor@writingforpeace.org, subject heading: Young Adviser Nominations.

2014 Young Writers Contest

Writing for Peace Young Writers' ContestThe Writing for Peace 2014 Young Writers Contest deadline is March 1st, 2014. Our prestigious Judges Panel includes Robin Black, fiction; Dinty W. Moore, nonfiction; and David Mason, poetry. Submission guidelines here.

 DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceDoveTales Call for Submissions

Writing for Peace is accepting submissions for our 2014 Issue of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts. The theme of our second journal is contrast. Check out our submission guidelines here.

Support Writing for Peace

DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts, "Occupied" 2013Help us reach out to schools and young writers by purchasing a copy of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts to gift to your local high school or junior high. Let us know you are gifting your copy, and we’ll include extra bookmarks (beautifully designed by artist-in-residence, PdLietz). Purchase our 2013 “Occupied” Issue here.

Copyright © 2013 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Transforming the World through Social Media, by Carmel Mawle

Uniting for Peace

 Transforming the World through Social Media

By Carmel Mawle

If, like us, you wondered how Facebook’s decision to go public would affect your accounts. Now we know. It’s meant more ads, more data mining, more selling of our private information to governments and corporations, but for those of us who are trying to transform the world through small grass roots efforts, the change has shaken us to the core.

Before the summer of 2012, when Facebook went public, Writing for Peace reached up to 110,000 readers per week. Now, we reach close to 6000.

Two years ago we posted our first Young Writers Contest on Facebook, and were overjoyed to receive entries from all over the U.S. This year, we heard from young writers in 21 different countries. Will this growth continue? I don’t yet know how these new restrictions will translate to practical outreach, but I’m worried.

The bottom line is this: Facebook wants us to pay a minimum of $30 per post in order to “reach an estimated 3,600 – 6,600” people. If we want to splurge, we can choose to reach “an estimated 74,000 – 110,000 out of [our] potential audience of 140,000 people” by paying $600 per post. Facebook is charging for access to the relationships we cultivated over the course of two years through a service they presented as being without cost.

Even if we had the money, I would argue against it on principle. Not a single member of Writing for Peace is paid a dime. Despite the generous donations of friends, family, and the Colgate University Research Council, the website, awards and certificates, postage, and, yes, the full-color printed DoveTales journals are over 90% self-funded. It’s a stretch, but if we were flush, we would want those funds to go toward the young writers, scholarships, workshops, journals, and more journals.

Not Facebook.

Like delicate strands braided into an indestructible rope, we are a powerful force when united. Social media has been lauded as a tool for creative connections and revolutions. This communication tool made possible the Arab Spring and Occupy Movements, and allows the dissemination of information from outside the corporate media – a truth that has governments shaking in their jackboots. The drive to monetize our relationships is reflective of a corporate mentality directly opposed to grassroots efforts like Writing for Peace.

If you’ve read this far, you are already committed to changing the world – and probably wondering what you can do to help. Believe it or not, you can make the greatest impact not by sending money (though we wouldn’t object), but by spending a few minutes every day on behalf of those causes you are committed to. Take the time to check our Facebook page frequently. We will make it worth your while with loads of inspiration and information. Invite your friends to like our page and please subscribe to our blog. If you appreciate a post, hit the like button. Leave a comment. Share our posts on your page. And while you’re at it, mention our Young Writers Contest to your kids’ teachers and email us for free bookmarks to share. These small things make a HUGE difference in our outreach, and we are grateful to each of you who already make a consistent effort on our behalf.

This is a collaboration, and you are essential to this experiment. As the world teeters on the brink of another war, help us spread a culture of peace.

Carmel Mawle is the founder of Writing for Peace and serves as President of the Board of Directors.Carmel Mawle is the founder of Writing for Peace, and serves as president of the Board of Directors. Carmel is a member of the Denver Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, SPACES Lit Mag, Mountain Scribe Anthology, and upcoming in KNOT Magazine.

 Writing for Peace

Writing for Peace News

Take Action on Syria

Write your Representatives: Prevent an Attack on Syria Now

Hit the Streets: Americans Don’t Want A War in Syria—And They’re Working Hard to Prevent One, by Kevin Zeese and Writing for Peace Adviser Margaret Flowers

Congratulations To Our New Young Advisers

Writing for Peace is pleased to introduce two remarkable young peace activists, the founding members of our new panel of Young Advisers. Both have shown an extraordinary commitment to peace. Check their pages and watch our blog for their inspirational posts.

Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young AdviserNatan Blanc is an Israeli who refused to serve in the IDF (Israeli army) “because of its actions against the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.” Natan held fast to his convictions, despite being jailed ten times.

Lyla June Johnston, Writing for Peace Young AdviserLyla June Johnston is a Navajo poet and peace activist from Taos, New Mexico, who has found her home in the service of humanity.

Writing for Peace is accepting nominations of young activists, writers, and artists, for our new panel of Young Advisers. Please send nominations by email, along with the reasons for your nomination and contact information to editor@writingforpeace.org, subject heading: Young Adviser Nominations.

2014 Young Writers Contest

Writing for Peace Young Writers' ContestThe Writing for Peace 2014 Young Writers Contest deadline is March 1st, 2014. Our prestigious Judges Panel includes Robin Black, fiction; Dinty W. Moore, nonfiction; and David Mason, poetry. Submission guidelines here.

 DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceDoveTales Call for Submissions

Writing for Peace is accepting submissions for our 2014 Issue of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts. The theme of our second journal is contrast. Check out our submission guidelines here.

Support Writing for Peace

DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts, "Occupied" 2013Help us reach out to schools and young writers by purchasing a copy of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts to gift to your local high school or junior high. Let us know you are gifting your copy, and we’ll include extra bookmarks (beautifully designed by artist-in-residence, PdLietz). Purchase our 2013 “Occupied” Issue here.

Copyright © 2013 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Weary of a Violent Vocabulary, by Andrea W. Doray

This spring, Writing for Peace looks at gun violence, as well as violence against women and other issues of women’s equality.

Andrea Doray, Writing for Peace Board MemberWeary of a Violent Vocabulary

by Andrea W. Doray

 The other day, the building where I was working was on lockout. There was a shooter in the office park and police had sealed off the area. They were pursuing a person of interest in the incident, an alleged gunman who was still at large and presumed armed and dangerous. The targeted victim survived the attack and was transported to the hospital with unknown injuries.

Lockout, shooter, sealed off.

Gunman, at large, armed and dangerous.

Target, victim, attack.

Considered alone, each of these words and phrases has a very different meaning from when they are strung together to describe yet another event of violence in our communities. Such words, common enough on their own, are now a part of a growing lexicon of carnage, a new vocabulary of violence.

I, for one, am sick and tired of it.

I’m sickened by the loss, the grief, the terror, the waste…sickened by randomness, senselessness, and injustice.

And I’m tired of trying to use our everyday language to give these vicious acts some sort of meaning.

When did “lockout” come to mean more than forgetting my keys, and a “shooter” more than a short glass full of strong stuff?

Why are victims “targets?” Targets are for archery practice and marketing plans and weight-loss goals, not the end results of violent actions. And I’d much rather leave high-speed chases to the Indy 500 and abductions to aliens.

And when did a suspect become a “person of interest?” This sounds more like speed dating to me. I can’t help but wonder if this is a case of art imitating life or life imitating art…in this case, a TV drama of the same name.

I do understand, of course, why we need to use such language carefully, including the word “alleged.” The right to a presumption of innocence in the United States is not shared in all courtrooms around the world.

Of course, this word-choice policy exists to prevent a rush to justice—generated by a rush to scoop the news that often results in misidentification, miscommunication, and wild speculation—but lately, this concession has been stretched to ridiculous levels. For example, as the hearings for James Holmes were taking place recently, I heard the events at the theaters in Aurora, Colorado, described as the “alleged shootings.”

Wait a minute…all the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are yet to be known fully, but the shootings themselves aren’t “alleged”—they happened.

That’s one reason why I’m sick and tired and saddened that a beautiful, powerful, well-respected, and well-loved language is being corrupted to include this new vocabulary of violence.

I’d much rather think of an “attack” as coming from the flu, and of a “shot” as something to protect me from it.

That’s a lexicon I can live with.

 

 About Andrea W. Doray

Andrea W. Doray, Writing for Peace Board MemberAndrea Doray is a writer, media watcher, and careful consumer of the news. She serves as a board member for Writing for Peace and is a contributing editor on its international journal, DoveTales.

Learn more about Andrea W. Doray here.

 

Writing for Peace News:

Mary Carroll-Hackett Joins WfP Advisory Panel

Writing for Peace is pleased to welcome Mary Carroll-Hackett to our Advisory Panel. Mary is an award-winning author, poet, editor, and educator.

Jonas Salk said “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.” I heard my mama say this when I was a child, and it, from that moment, changed and shaped the way I saw and moved through the world. As a parent and as an educator, to me, there is no greater gift nor more sacred trust than to honor the gifts given me by those who came before by doing whatever I can to help the young ones following behind us, Writing for Peace, particularly for me with their work with young people, will be the way we heal this world, heal and love each other. I’m humbled and honored to be a part of it.

~Mary Carroll-Hackett

Mary Carroll-Hackett, Writing for Peace AdviserMary Carroll-Hackett earned an MFA in Literature and Writing from Bennington College in June 2003. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in more than a hundred journals including Carolina Quarterly, Clackamas Literary Review, Pedestal Magazine, The Potomac, Reed, Superstition Review, Drunken Boat and The Prose-Poem Project, among others. Her awards include being named a North Carolina Blumenthal Writer and winner of the Willamette Award for Fiction. She had an O Henry Recommended recognition for her story “Placing,” and her collection of poems, The Real Politics of Lipstick, won the 2010 annual poetry competition by Slipstream. Her chapbook Animal Soul, is forthcoming this year from Kattywompus Press. She has taught writing for nearly twenty years, and in 2003, founded the Creative Writing programs, undergraduate and graduate, at Longwood University in Farmville, VA, serving as Program Director of those programs until Fall 2011.

Mary Carroll-Hackett invites all young writers to join her students in posting and discussing current event articles on her open Facebook page,  MCH-What’s Going On?.

Learn more about Mary Carroll-Hackett’s work here.

 WfP Adviser Visits Fort Collins High School

Maija Rhee Devine, Writing for Peace Adviser

Kellan McTague, a junior at Fort Collins High School, shared that his grandfather had been a veteran of the Korean War. “Your grandfather saved my life,” said Devine.

Author, poet, and Writing for Peace Adviser, Maija Rhee Devine, visited Fort Collins High School last week to read from her debut novel, Voices of Heaven. The novel was first written as a memoir about her experiences as a young girl during the Korean War. As the North Korean and Chinese armies invaded, Devine’s family fled along with thousands of others through snow and freezing temperatures, carrying their possessions in bags on their heads. Some men, she said, balanced mattresses on their heads in hopes that the extra padding would protect them from flying bullets. Students in Mitch Schneider’s language arts classes listened with rapt attention as Devine described how her mother would cover her eyes when they came upon bombing victims, or as people beside them were struck by sniper bullets. They boarded a boxcar without windows or seats where desperate men clung to the outside of the cars, until they froze and fell to their deaths.

Maija Rhee Devine, Writing for Peace Adviser

Fort Collins High School sophomore, Margarita Gutierrez, and visiting author, Maija Rhee Devine.

Devine explained the Confucian culture that made boys necessary to families, not only for the security of elderly parents, but to perform the ceremonial feasts that ensured the well-being of three generations of ancestors in the afterlife. A man and wife who were unable to produce a male heir would commonly secure a mistress, either maintaining a second household, or bringing her into the home. This was the case in her family, when fifteen harmonious years of marriage failed to produce a male heir. Her novel opens with her family preparing for the arrival of the new mistress amid rumors of war.

Maija Rhee Devine, Writing for Peace Adviser

Fort Collins High School student, Erik Garcia Arellano, and visiting author, Maija Rhee Devine.

Devine said the process to transform her memoir into a novel had taken ten years, but ultimately had freed her to explore voices of other characters within the story. She read about the arrival of the new mistress from her own perspective as a little girl, as well as her mother’s, father’s, and the mistress herself. Devine challenged Schneider’s students to think back to an emotional event in their own lives and write about it in the voice of another character.

The Voice of Heaven, by Maija Rhee DevineMaija Rhee Devine, a Korean-born writer whose fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Boulevard, North American Review, and The Kenyon Review, and in various anthologies, holds a B.A. in English from Sogang University in Seoul, and an M.A. in English from St. Louis University.  Writing honors include an NEA grant and nominations to Pushcart Prize and O. Henry Awards. Maija Rhee Devine is a member of the Writing for Peace Advisory Panel.

Learn more about Maija here.

DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts, "Occupied" 2013DoveTales is now available for purchase!

We are excited to announce that the print copies of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts, “Occupied” 2013, are now available to purchase on our website here.

DoveTales is a full color journal, featuring poetry, essays, and fiction from our contest winners, established and emerging writers, as well as art and photography. Writing for Peace Artist-In-Residence Pd Lietz’s artwork is featured on the cover and throughout the journal.  We are grateful for the support of Colgate University Research Council, which provided a $500 grant as a partial underwriting of the initial publication of DoveTales.

In our first issue of DoveTales, writers and artists explored the many definitions of the “Occupied” theme in brilliant and unexpected ways. Contributors include: Chrissie Morris Brady, Andrea W. Doray, Kim Goldberg, Veronica Golos, Nancy Aidé González, Sam Hamill, Denny Hoffman, Michael Lee Johnson, Adam Jones, Ron Koppelberger, Pd Lietz, Paul Lindholt, Cory Lockhart, Shannon K. Lockhart, Ellen Meeropol, Mark A. Murphy, Tricia Orr, Kenneth Pobo, Linda Quennec, Nausheen Rajan, Shirani Rajapakse, April Salzano, Nizar Sartawi, Laura Solomon, John Stocks, Julie Stuckey, Samantha Peters Terrell, Richard Vargas. Contributor biography pages will appear on our website soon.

All proceeds for Writing for Peace publications and products go to support our mission, including future Young Writers Contests, DoveTales and other peace publications, and workshops. We invite you to show your support for the Writing for Peace mission by  purchasing your copy today!

Young Writers Contest

Our 2013 Young Writers Contest closed on March 1st with 106 entries from 21 different countries. We will announce the decisions of judges William Haywood Henderson (fiction), Phyllis Barber (nonfiction), and Michael J. Henry (poetry) on May 1st, 2013. Every participating young writer will receive a certificate of participation, which will be mailed this month. The 2014 Young Writers Contest Guidelines will be posted on June 1st, 2013.

In Our Blog~

This spring, Writing for Peace will look at gun violence and women’s equality, two important issues that are often intertwined. We’ll take a step back from the inflammatory gun control debate by exploring the subject through poetry, essays and fiction. Links to previous posts on these topics can be found below:

Silent Day, by Richard Krawiec

What Happens When We Lose Our Innocence? by Andrea W. Doray

Where Peace Begins, by Cara Lopez Lee

Opportunity, and Public Encouragement, by Richard Krawiec

A Stranger in Trouble, Part One, by Vicki Lindner

A Stranger in Trouble, Part Two, by Vicki Lindner

Exit Wound, by Melissa Hassard

Circle Jerk, by Pd Lietz

Every Month is Women’s History Month, by Andrea W. Doray

This is Where I’ll Die, Translated by Maija Rhee Devine

Like Taking Off Boots, by Maija Rhee Devine

The Flaming Cliffs of One’s Heart, by Adriana Paramo

 

Copyright © 2013 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Every Month is Women’s History Month, by Andrea W. Doray

 Every Month is Women’s History Month

by Andrea W. Doray

Andrea Doray, Writing for Peace Board MemberWhen I was little, yet old enough to start questioning the order of things, I asked my parents why we had a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but no Kid’s Day. The answer, of course, was that every day is Kid’s Day.

March was Women’s History Month in the U.S. So with this same spirit of questioning, I ask why we have a Women’s History Month, and not a Men’s History Month. The answer, of course, is that every month is Men’s History Month.

Please…hear me out.

The goals of Women’s History Month are admirable: to promote awareness of women’s contributions to society. However, doesn’t such a celebration also demean the very citizens it aims to honor by emphasizing that these contributions are so unusual they need such a celebration?

Women in America have been always been asking: Hear me. And, originally, that’s why March—as initiated by the U.S. Congress in 1987 and by presidential proclamation since 1995—is Women’s History Month, so designated to pay tribute to the nation’s women.

Few people would argue that the history of the United States belongs to everyone…the full history, that is. The contributions of the country’s women should be seamlessly integrated into the history books and not treated as “special.”

Special, no.

Extraordinary, yes…as extraordinary as any person’s deeds are in the chronicles of the United States.

It’s easy to point to momentous activities by American women because there seem to be so few of them. The women’s voting rights movement is one just one example, and commemorations of the March 3 suffragists’ march on Washington, DC, 100 years ago abound during this year’s Women’s History Month.

As they should.

To most of us today, the concept of barring about one half of the country’s population from voting for the direction of its future (and arresting those who try) is perplexing, if not downright bizarre.

Suffrage alone deserves its tribute, yet an examination of the reasons why American women even needed this century-long campaign shouldn’t be confined to Women’s History Month.

Justifiably then, the actions of America’s heroic women such as Dolley Madison, Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Abigail Adams—who in 1776 asked her husband, John, at work on the Declaration of Independence, to “remember the ladies”—should also all be credited.

That didn’t happen, and the Declaration’s wording to this day still specifies that all men are created equal. In fact, the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would eliminate bias on the basis of gender, first introduced in 1923, has never been ratified.

Yet, where would the United States be without Rosa Parks, without Gloria Steinem, without Sandra Day O’Connor, without women like my mother who served in World War II or those who kept the nation functioning at home during that time?

If you are saying here that I’ve left out thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of important and even infamous women from my list, you are exactly right.

That’s why women’s history is way too big to be cuddled into one month a year. Women of all ages and all ethnicities have made and are making history now, right alongside our men, whose achievements, by the way, I respect equally with those of women.

Please…hear me: Every month is Women’s History Month, and we shouldn’t need a calendar to remind us.

 

About Andrea W. Doray, Writing for Peace Board Member

Andrea W. Doray is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and humanist living in Arvada, CO. Learn more about Andrea here.

Writing for Peace News:

In Our Blog~

This spring, Writing for Peace will look at gun violence and women’s equality, two important issues that are often intertwined. We’ll take a step back from the inflammatory gun control debate by exploring the subject through poetry, essays and fiction. Links to previous posts on these topics can be found below:

Silent Day, by Richard Krawiec

What Happens When We Lose Our Innocence? by Andrea W. Doray

Where Peace Begins, by Cara Lopez Lee

Opportunity, and Public Encouragement, by Richard Krawiec

A Stranger in Trouble, Part One, by Vicki Lindner

A Stranger in Trouble, Part Two, by Vicki Lindner

Exit Wound, by Melissa Hassard

Circle Jerk, by Pd Lietz

 

Young Writers Contest

Our 2013 Young Writers Contest closed on March 1st with 106 entries from 21 different countries! Announcements will be made on May 1st, 2013. Congratulations to every young writer who participated!  The 2014 Young Writers Contest Guidelines will be posted on June 1st, 2013.

DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts

The  “Occupied” 2013 issue of DoveTales has gone to press! The release date is slated for March 30th, but you will begin seeing some exciting changes on the website before then. Stay tuned, and thank you for your support!

Equity for Women Writers

Writing for Peace encourages all young people to write and to believe their writing can make a difference, but is that equally true for boys and girls? Sadly, the latest VIDA Count indicates that we have a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the literary world. Please help us reverse this trend by reading works written be women and promoting your favorite women authors. Ask your children who they are reading in school, supplement their reading list with books by women authors, and talk to their teachers, librarians, and principals about adding women authors to their curriculum. Take note of the authors reviewed in your local papers and advocate for women authors. Head to your library or book store with a list of the twelve amazing women on our Advisory Panel. And please make a statement in support of women writers here. Thank you!

 

Copyright © 2013 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

International Day of the Girl, by Andrea W. Doray

Without Us, the International Day of the Girl is Just an Ideal 

Andrea W. Doray

 Andrea Doray, Writing for Peace Board MemberOctober 11 this year was the first “International Day of the Girl.”

Two days before that, 14-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban.

And four days before that, 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was abducted from her Westminster, Colorado, neighborhood, to be found murdered a week later.

Malala—who has inspired people around the world with her public stand against the Taliban’s ban on education for girls—is recovering in a hospital in Britain.

Jessica—who united a community in its search for her, and united a nation in its support of her family—did not survive.

The ideals of the International Day of the Girl…

What happened to Malala and Jessica is in stark contrast to the ideals of the International Day of the girl, adopted by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and to create awareness of the unique challenges girls face around the world.

Other organizations, in celebrating the International Day of the Girl, have said that, “When girls have the opportunity to be educated…society as a whole benefits.”

And both Malala and Jessica loved school. One, Jessica, was on her way to school when she disappeared. The other, Malala, was on her way home from school when she was shot by assassins sent from the Pakistani Taliban.

Tragically, it is our horror and disbelief that connect the 10-year-old from a quiet and nurturing Denver suburb with the 14-year-old from a village in northwestern Pakistan.

Both beloved by their families, both innocents, both children.

Both targeted, in part, for their gender.

An international travesty…

I believe that few of us would disagree that what happened to these girls is a travesty…a travesty against their youth, a travesty against their justice, a travesty against their right to exist.

And I believe that these two violent acts are violence against us, as well. When the world’s children are attacked, all of us are attacked…attacked to the very foundations of society.

Because anywhere girls are supported in reaching their potentials can be a society of secure futures for families and for communities, for nations and, by reasonable extension, the world.

In Colorado, USA, a program called “The Blossom Project” gathered proclamations from around the state to honor girls and hosted events to celebrate October 11.

The Blossom Project uses education to inspire high school girls to create visionary change, believing that young women play a critical role in the development of global civil society.

Some sobering statistics…

However, according to the National Women’s Law Center, one in four girls in America does not finish high school, and the Population Resource Bureau says that only 30% of girls worldwide are ever even enrolled in secondary school.

UNESCO—the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization—reports also that, by 2015, females will make up 64% of the world’s adult population who cannot read.

The ideals of the International Day of the Girl that help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm to improve the lives of girls are just that—ideals—without the attention and action of people like you and me. Contact Writing for Peace for ways to help.

In their honor…

Malala Yousufzai, when she recovers, may get the chance to continue her education, to reach her potential, to play her role in the development of global civil society.

Jessica Ridgeway will not.

Don’t both of these girls deserve our action, in their honor, to make sure that other young girls do?

 

 

Andrea W. Doray is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and humanist living in Arvada, CO. Learn more about Andrea here.

 

 

Get Involved:

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for Peace

 

Call for Submissions: Be a part of our first issue of DoveTales.  The Writing for Peace Literary Journal, DoveTales is accepting poetry, fiction, essays, photography, and art. The submission deadline is October 30th. Find Submission guidelines here.

2013 Young Writers Contest: Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction divisions, ages 13-19. Find guidelines here.

Writing for Peace is developing an online Mentor Program: Learn more and apply here.

 

Copyright © 2012 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

 

Mourning the Loss of Voices for Peace, by Andrea W. Doray

 Mourning the Loss of Voices for Peace

 Andrea Doray, Writing for Peace Board Memberby Andrea W. Doray

You may not know who Wislawa Szymborska was, but you might know who Carlos Fuentes was.

Szymborska and Fuentes are two of the most influential authors of our time, and each died recently. If you don’t know too much about them, that’s okay. I myself was only introduced to the work of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (pronounced vees-WAH-vah shim-BOR-ska) during a 2010 poetry class at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. Since then, she has become my favorite poetic voice.

Szymborska, who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, was a gentle and reclusive person who lived modestly in the old university city of Krakow, Poland. In interviews, she insisted her poetry was personal rather political; however I have found that her work brings the personal to the political, as well as the political to the personal. She died in Krakow in February at age 88.

Carlos Fuentes died earlier this year in Mexico City at age 83. He wrote his first novel at age 29 and published an essay in France on the day he died.

You may know Fuentes for his internationally acclaimed novel, The Death of Artemio Cruz, or for The Buried Mirror, which he also hosted as a five-part series on NPR. Fuentes lived in the United States from time to time and taught at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and Brown universities…in flawless American English.

Fuentes was honored with the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s highest literary honor, as well as France’s highest civilian award given to a foreigner. For me, Fuentes belongs to a fabled tradition of literary author as social commentator.

My own writing…

This loss of these important literary voices leads me to think of the course of my own writing. I volunteer for Writing for Peace, dedicated to cultivating empathy and developing a foundation of compassion on which to build a more peaceful world.

And I have so much to say! Right now, I’m working on my second collection of poetry with themes of war and peace, injustice and compassion throughout.

This also leads to think of what you might have to say. I’ve talked about renowned authors here, but you don’t have to be famous to be heard speaking out for peace.

I hear you out there all the time, at city council or county commissioner or school board meetings. I see you packing boxes at the Food Bank. I see you holding signs and hear you knocking on doors for candidates whom you believe will speak with your voice.

I see you tweeting and posting and blogging. I see you standing up for what matters to you, and saying what you believe needs to be said.

What more could we have learned?

Still, I mourn losing voices like Szymborska’s and Fuentes’…voices from different languages, different worlds. What more could they have shared with us, taught us?

Szymborska created a poetic place for readers to go where we had not been able to go before. She takes on the tough subjects and makes them accessible to us.

Fuentes said just six years ago that he had many more books in him. As a testament to his convictions, his last post on Twitter (out of only 21), has been translated from Spanish to English as: “There must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.”

Excuse me now, would you?

I need to go write something.

 

Andrea W. Doray is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and humanist living in Arvada, CO. Learn more about Andrea here.

 

 

Get Involved:

Call for Submissions: The Writing for Peace Literary Journal, DoveTales is accepting poetry, fiction, essays, photography, and art. Find Submission guidelines here.

2013 Young Writers Contest: Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction divisions, ages 13-19. Find guidelines here.

Volunteer as a Writing for Peace Mentor: Learn more and apply here.

 

Next time…

Alexandra Kinias, Writing for Peace Adviser

 

A Word from Alexandra Kinias

Don’t miss our next post, when we’ll hear from  Writing for Peace Adviser, Alexandra Kinias. Alexandra is a mechanical engineer, screenwriter, photographer, and novelist. Born and raised in Egypt, her blog Silenced Voices, Wasted lives is dedicated to women’s issues in general and women in the Middle East in particular. Her novel, “Black Tulips”, reveals the hardships that women are exposed to living in male dominant societies.

Read more about Alexandra here.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2012 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

 

 


A Year in Grenoble, by Phillip Richards

Phil Richards, Colgate Professor of English. What Good is Knowledge if You Cannot Solve Problems? A Year in Grenoble

by Phillip Richards

At the beginning of the academic year, Colgate professors receive a computer file displaying thumbnail color portraits of their students’ faces. Intended to help instructors memorize individual identities, these pictures actually emphasize the nearly interchangeable nature of these fresh faces. This appearance of homogeneity is reaffirmed in face-to-face contact with these young people, who are similarly fit and wear similar clothes, as they walk between granite stone classroom campus buildings. The school cultivates the top 10 percent of the American population and appears, at first, to be a harmonious egalitarian society. Reinforcing this impression, the college administrators refuse to keep percentile records tabulating the students’ median family earnings, race, or other markers that might reveal profound differences in the community.

Largely inconspicuous in dress, and often speech, black students only arouse the attention and sometimes disdain of the white majority when they become visible in separatist (or allegedly separatist) groups. These seemingly innocent groups are so disturbing because they underline Colgate’s most socially retrograde feature: its self-conscious appeal as a homogeneous community for the white upper class.

However, teachers cannot ignore the unspoken, racially based, two-tier academic system by which many minority students are graded. I was thus not shocked to find, as a member of the faculty committee for pre-medical students, that virtually no African Americans had graduated in the pre-med program. This failure persisted despite eight years of minority science initiatives. Having established the program without monitoring the progress of its African-American students, the school easily forgot—as the school’s deepest customs demanded—the inevitably poor preparation of black students in most city high schools.

Ten years ago I wrote an article on the racial tiers of student achievement and expectations for the Chronicle of Higher Education. The fall it was published, I was asked to give a talk to a selected faculty group to explain the article and ended up giving an account of the failure of the minority science initiative. The session spilled over into a rambling discussion of whether African-American students were succeeding in the sciences at Colgate. Some scientists rose to defend their colleagues, against what is a universally acknowledged fact of life in the university.

Both the article and my criticism of the minority pre-med program created a remarkably deep rage at the school. For a moment the institutional workings of inequality became explicit. Despite my racial connection to colored students, I was presumed to be unconcerned about their most basic academic welfare, because I pointed to a tacit agreement among a white academic elite to give African-American youth a second-rate academic credential but not a real education. A shared assumption of black inferiority sealed this agreement. And the black students who were recruited did not complain about the school’s inadequate academic and personal support for them.

In Gabon as a Fulbright professor I had seen a bourgeois black professoriate so rewarded for its indifference to the obscene neglect of university education by the wealthy national government. All the same, the best of the under-endowed African schools had produced an intelligentsia that had flourished in the universities of the colonial powers. This group included, in no particular order, George Padmore, Aime Cesaire, Frantz Fanon, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Chinua Achebe, Sir Arthur Lewis, Orlando Patterson, Abiola Irele, Oliver Cox, and Eric Williams. Pushed into ethnic enclaves and bohemia, they thrived amid radical politics or intensive self-education. The racist educative process of the imperial academic world only sharpened their response to the material, intellectual, and psychological realities of their condition. They had seen past the disingenuousness of the West to the dynamics of black oppression. Amid Colgate’s tree-lined quadrangles set atop broad grassy swards, generations of African-American students had in contrast been ignorant, unconcerned, or cynically compliant with the basic inequalities of American academic life.

AFTER THE contentious fall at Colgate, I decided to go to France to confront these realities in a less mystified academic and intellectual world. Such a world, I believed, would allow a more profoundly subversive inquiry into American university education at Colgate and in general. Under the scrutiny of French inquisitiveness, American educational assumptions might be parsed and submitted to examination. I discovered and applied for a visiting professorship for the 2003–2004 academic year advertised in the University of California system. I sent my credentials to L’Université Stendhal (Grenoble III), where an outside board of examiners reviewed them. I received an appointment as a full professor (professeur assoçié). For a brief while that summer I was satisfied. I thought of myself as an academic newcomer to a French world ouverte aux talents (open to talent), legitimized by academic credentials from Yale, the University of Chicago, visiting professorships, and residencies at think tanks. This scholarly currency, I assumed, would be accepted in the French academy, to which my education had pointed me since fourth grade. This quickly proved to be a misapprehension.

Within Colgate’s enchanted, pastoral environs I could easily forget the reality of my peripheral status in a world dominated by Western white power. During my first encounter with the French bureaucracy at the Consulate on Park Avenue in Manhattan, those soft blinders disappeared, and I saw the face that France directs toward strangers: eagerness to cater to a global elite while preliminarily rejecting all deemed unfit to enter.

As it turned out, I could not enter France without university credentials heretofore unknown to me. For two weeks I negotiated with a cadre of insolent and bored clerks (and tested the abundant patience of a friend from whose Brooklyn apartment I daily took the subway into Manhattan). About to raise my voice in protest at one point during this endurance test, I noticed a sign opposite me with the inevitable French response to the étrangèr: “A French VISA is not a Right. Disruptive persons will be Dismissed.”

I was a displaced person, alienated and suddenly aware of the blandishments of university patronage I usually enjoyed. I quickly recognized my compeers. One was the middle-aged francophone woman with whom I chatted on the stoop of my friend’s apartment upon returning from the French consulate in the evening. Discovering that she was Algerian, I began speaking to her in French. As I listened to her, it occurred to me once more—I had occasionally heard Parisian French in Africa—that I too spoke a provincial discourse. No matter how grammatically I expressed myself, I was an educated outsider, a particular kind of étrangèr in France. I spoke the French I had learned in Alexander Hamilton Junior High School in Cleveland, an innocent reproduction of the Parisian master recording.

As we became acquainted, her conversation grew more open and her tone more confidential. In a few days she addressed me with the discreet frankness that well-acquainted people use to discuss race. France, she told me, was franchement (“frankly” being the favored French introduction to a discussion of race) becoming untenable for the children of Maghreb immigrants such as herself. Like the Africans—who had ironically (in her eyes) become somewhat better off than the Arabs—few Arabs completed their final year at lycée, succeeded at the bac (short for baccalauréat, the final comprehensive high-school exam taken throughout France), and proceeded into the university. The few young Maghreb youth who did tended to fail after their initial year. Limited to the most menial jobs or totally unemployed, they lived in the suburban slums, the banlieues now surrounding most French cities. They had become France’s permanent class of défavorisé (disadvantaged).

The neighbor was identifying herself to me as an outsider to the cosmopolitan French world, one-upping me by insinuating that black people had found an easier way in France’s racial hell than her fellow Algerians. However, there are outsiders and outsiders. She seemed to assume that my relative acceptance by the French had misled me into thinking myself chemoi la bas (at home over there). Outsider though she may be, she was not naïve. False consciousness was in her view (and many others, like Fanon’s) a far worse estrangement than any material social exclusion from the colonizer’s world.

BY THE time I got my visa, I was as bedraggled as the other displaced persons I saw flowing through the multi-ethnic streets of New York. There were other shabbily dressed people in line for my Delta flight; like them I was given special attention. My tennis shoes, worn without socks, were removed and their soles inspected. The electronic wand was passed over all parts of my body. I suspect that my silvery researcher’s visa—scrutinized by the security guards before I boarded—saved me from a more comprehensive investigation. But the experiences of the last couple weeks had broken down my last vestiges of personal organization and prudence. My cash was depleted by my stay in Brooklyn and I was unwilling to borrow any more money from friends, so when I arrived at the train station after landing at Charles De Gaulle airport outside of Paris, I found myself without enough money to reach Grenoble by train. Confecting an explanatory story, I telephoned my program director, who arranged for a friendly colleague in Paris to buy me a train ticket from Gare du Nord to Grenoble that afternoon.

Following the colleague’s directions I wove my way through a bewildering maze of subway trains connecting to Gare du Nord. I was to meet with the director’s friend under a clock at the station. I was instead found by her, immediately before the train left the station. She met me, enraged that I could not find the clock and thus disrupted her lunch plans. I had little time to do anything else but to get the ticket and install myself on the train.

Through the front door of the cabin where I sat entered three black teenage boys who carried long, black sports equipment bags with Nike logos. Following them were two large black women wearing broad-shouldered African dresses of bright, variegated colors. They had come into the cabin chattering not in Parisian but in the slower-paced African French. They took their bearings and proceeded to comment on the occupants of the cabin around them. Like me, they settled their attention upon the black boys up ahead. They spoke with the embittered alienation of the poor everywhere. They were particularly contemptuous of the curving symbol on the young men’s bags.

“All of them,” one said pointing to the boys’ sport bags, “want to have a swoosh.”

There was a pause. Then the other grunted. “That’s what’s going on everywhere. The bags. The swoosh.” As she said this, her hand flew from her lap like a plane taking off from Kennedy over the Atlantic.

The other, looking back at the bags, shrugged her shoulders. “Listen, they will have enough of this soon. The bags will be gone, the swoosh dissolved, and the air empty. Only the niggers will be left.” “That’s right,” said the other. Here again were the défavorisé. After a while, these boys—like the black Colgate students struggling through their science classes—would hit the ground, the swoosh having disappeared into the empty air.

I was picked up at the train station in Grenoble by the program director, a tall, bearded, friendly expatriated Texan. Seeing my disheveled figure, he smiled and took me to my host family, who had been expecting me for about a month. They were not so pleased by my appearance. Looking first at my distracted, sleepy face and then at the torn knees of my pants, they nevertheless maintained a posture of genteel good will and with visible effort composed their faces into welcoming smiles.

I arrived to a situation no less complicated than the one I had left. I had come to the university late, missed the orientation seminars for new teachers, and was a day away from the start of classes.

THE AFTERNOON of the next day, I entered into my first afternoon lecture and saw a plethora of blonde, brown, olive, black, and yellow faces, from all over Europe and Asia and Africa. I gave from memory my customary lecture to begin my African-American literature classes. I spoke about the origins of black literacy and writing in eighteenth-century New England. The students took notes diligently and were generally quiet. One young African man asked about Phillis Wheatley’s political views and racial awareness in the Age of Revolution, an incisive question that I had never heard asked at Colgate—the kind of question from the kind of person for whom I had come to France. I would learn the fate of this politically astute young man when he failed my course at the end of the term. He was a Nigerian who had failed the highly competitive test for entrance into the University of Lagos. Consequently, he (an Anglophone) came to Grenoble, where the tuition was cheap, and spent two years in intensive language study at the Maison des Langues. From there he plunged himself into what was then a two-year program called DEUG, which he failed during the first year. This erased whatever ideas I had about the intellectual benefits of African life in the imperial university. The idea of a worldwide Francophonie had not meant much to me at Omar Bongo University in Gabon, where nearly everyone was black. But here at L’Université Stendhal the word’s real meaning became clear: it was the colonial French world deployed around a cosmopolitan French center.

Stendhal students crammed into my first lecture, sitting in the aisles to listen. I, of course, misread the students’ exceptionally attentive demeanor and slight curiosity, which were later translated to me by two young friends who became my de facto native informants. The friendly students—a short, slender, elegant African girl whose parents were Air Afrique executives, and her tall white boyfriend—told me, jokingly, that everyone had expected to hear the reincarnation of Malcolm X. There was, the boyfriend said, some disappointment when they encountered a traditional literary historian. A second answer was even more deflating: the students had been so attentive because I was speaking too fast.

The director, an immensely generous and thoughtful man who eased my way throughout the year, had similar concerns about me, according to a woman in late middle age who had earlier become my closest friend in France. Was I, he queried her, black enough? He had consulted a good source. She was a retired historian who had taught American studies in the English department at Stendhal, kept up with local political affairs, continually attended political talks, and translated works concerning the AIDS health crisis in English and French. During our first dinner, we spent two hours talking about current black intellectuals—we knew the same ones—and their life in the American academy. (One could not know one black American intellectual, she laughingly observed, without knowing them all). Her answer to my chairman was yes, I was black: very, very black.

French students who make it through the first two years of DEUG are remarkably literate. My older undergraduates in the African-American literature class easily placed the writers I discussed in their literary periods, identified their use or neglect of period cultural conventions, spotted important allusions, and performed incisive explications of texts. These were not only academic abilities, I was to learn, but civic credentials.

MY HOSTS were cultivated people in the mode that the French university system intended to produce. They were people of a distinguished niveau (level). They discussed ideas with an intensity that I do not see in informal gatherings at Colgate. They saw chamber music performed in their living room, a slide show of a far-off land, or a literary discussion in a local bookstore as deliberate intellectual undertakings. These activities defined them as intellectuals bearing a shared cultural tradition. And as they listened to one another, they implicitly judged whether each “had the niveau” to join their particular intellectual class. This niveau signaled not only cultivation but the perquisite of their social contract as bourgeois citizens. It gave their views among themselves—and I think among the wider circle of their educated acquaintances—legitimacy and currency. My silver-starred research visa, my professorship at a distinguished college, and my intelligible expression in French won me initial plausibility and even respect as an intellectual. My host father was a physicist and the son of an engineer, and the mother was trained as a lawyer. Among the children’s aunts and uncles were biologists, mathematicians, and other scientists. Among their friends were other cultivated people—a beautiful Russian singer, the American studies program director and his Russian émigré wife (a pianist), and an American woman who sculpted and taught English at the university. On the second-floor landing in front of the bedroom doors was a small library containing the French canon of philosophy, literature, and history, clearly the traditional texts of the bac.

Despite their posture as members of a longstanding continental intelligentsia, they were not wholly at ease. As I lived with them, I perceived their anxiety over the encroaching American and Asian worlds. They feared international capitalism and the technocrats who did its bidding. In my discussions I surprised myself with the casual way in which I had internalized the capitalist agenda, which looked much different abroad. I told the father that the United States had already chosen its course. We had long ago accepted a deep structural transformation of the American economy, from one based in material production to one grounded in finance, high technology, pharmaceuticals, information, communication, and professional services. In doing so we had written off much of our population as an inadequate human resource. The country’s leaders were willing to accept the consequences of this negligence with complete sangfroid.

He responded that he felt that a nation-state might better base its economic order on providing its people a high level of human sufficiency. But beneath this high-mindedness was a foundational concern: he worried that his French culture, despite its depth of tradition and learning, seemed outdated. “Who cares whether French students know more science and math in college than their American counterparts? What good is knowledge,” he asked a little ruefully, “if you cannot solve problems? In the second or third year of graduate school, something happens to American students in science and technology that simply propels them past everyone else. It is as much a cultural style as anything else: a sense of endless possibility of all kinds.”

The growing number of Asians in France posed another threat to him. Speaking of those entering the French scientific and technical world, he moved his outstretched arms up and down, palms open in a typically French gesture, and remarked, “They work hard, very very hard.” He finally came down to the least of these minorities, the Arabs, whom he characterized based on the one Algerian in his research team. They were a threat of another kind: “He is very intelligent but ill-bred.”

The family was also anxious when they heard that I had been to French Central Africa and had a daughter who was then a member of the Peace Corps in the ex-French colony of Niger. The father—like many other Frenchmen—had a relative who had worked in postcolonial Francophone Africa. He knew that the French petroleum companies in France exploited the resources of Gabon, propped up Omar Bongo’s authoritarian state, and leveraged their corporate power into political influence in the French assembly. In the heat of expressing his disgust about this political-corporate-racial nexus to me, he began to say “les nègres” and then caught himself. Later during my appointment in Grenoble, my daughter sent me a letter and photos of her village in Niger. These pictures depicted Nigerian children on sandy ground, thinly covered by long grass. They were stunning even to a viewer used to accounts of malnutrition in Africa. The children had swollen black bellies, spindly legs, and pencil-like arms. Each one looked like a black fetus propped up by twigs. The host father and his wife took these images in with visible shock and then lengthy, painful concentration. They had not considered the possibility that knowledge of the great African horror was now a commonplace among educated American blacks, and now they assumed I must hate the French for their crimes against humanity.

The nocturnal black presence in the Île Verte neighborhood in Grenoble, however, clearly occupied a more overt place in the racial consciousness of my host family. I did not notice blacks at all in this well-heeled neighborhood until I had occasion to leave my family’s house late at night, to stretch my legs on a walk to Centre Ville. I saw young black men with braided hair in low-slung jeans, nondescript t-shirts, and occasionally pieces of gold jewelry. They walked up and down the sidewalks, many close to the city square, a tramway nexus adjacent to an area with department stores and restaurants. That spring, when I moved from L’Île Verte to St. Martin d’Hères, a working-class Maghreb neighborhood, I saw more young black men—obviously unemployed—drifting through the streets during the day and loafing at the nearby drug stores and all-night groceries after dark.

At night, they occupied the trams in thick knots and were always accompanied by police. At least two varieties of police were involved in this surveillance, one uniformed in different regalia from their daytime counterparts, the other conspicuously turned out in plainclothes outfits of shirt, tie, sport coat, and gray pants. These officers observed the blacks—their gatherings, comings, and departures—and the blacks in turn observed them. I never saw an open act of hostility. But the conduct of the police in Grenoble corresponded perfectly to accounts of the young black slum dwellers in the summer of 2005 who claimed that the police were “looking” at them. No violence transpired, but the air nevertheless seemed tense enough to explode.

AMERICAN BLACK power advocates, black lumpen, and revolutionary nationalists delivered on the promise of retaliatory black violence against the white establishment throughout the second half of the 1960s. In the light of my French experience, I saw the American riots in a new way. They had been exemplary in containing black violence and destructiveness within the ghetto, thereby demonizing lower-class blacks and depoliticizing a cohort of angry black middle-class students. I was the beneficiary of this social arrangement. Blacks were left with a shadow of social inclusion, with the stratified benefits of the economic boom, but were left outside of an economy increasingly defined by high-powered education and well-cultivated cognitive skills. Indeed, my literature courses in Grenoble may not have been a site of instruction for the French but instead a careful French examination of myself as another American innovation: a misdirected but angry colored presence. I may not have been the teacher of my courses but their subject matter.

A tall, beautiful mulatto woman who strolled downtown in the afternoons with a hint of a model’s runway swagger recognized me on the street one day as a visiting American professor. She invited me to her advanced class of English students, a group of angry, aggressive Maghreb boys. After briefly introducing myself to them, they ignited with invective. They had no doubts about my complicity with the American state and its racial policies. Was our support of Israel a legitimate role in the region, they demanded? I was taken completely aback. They had apparently been waiting for me.

Dissent MagazinePhillip M. Richards is the Arnold Sio Chair of Diversity and Community in the English department at Colgate University.

Learn more about Phillip Richards here.

This essay was previously published in Dissent Magazine, and is printed here with permission.

 

Get Involved:

Call for Submissions: The Writing for Peace Literary Journal, DoveTales is accepting poetry, fiction, essays, photography, and art. Find Submission guidelines here.

2013 Young Writers Contest: Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction divisions, ages 13-19. Find guidelines here.

Volunteer as a Writing for Peace Mentor: Learn more and apply here.

 

Next time…

Peter Street, Writing for Peace Advisor

A Word from Peter Street

Don’t miss our next post, when we’ll hear from Writing for Peace Adviser, poet Peter Street. Peter Street’s poetry reflects the unique insights gained from his experiences as a forester, a Mediterranean chef, a gravedigger/exhumer, and as a former war poet during the Bosnian/Croatian conflict. Learn more about Peter Street here.

Subscribe to the Writing for Peace Blog to ensure you don’t miss a single post!

 

 

Copyright © 2012 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.