Quietly shouting about democracy

By

Emma Greguska

“Writing, in particular, is a very strong conduit for compassion, empathy and human connection,” said Jake Friedman, coordinator for ASU’s Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Regrettably, piggybacked Arizona Poet Laureate and ASU Regents’ Professor Alberto Rios, those traits are sorely lacking in the current political landscape, and “we are living in a world of shouting.”

Those sentiments are the driving force behind Writers Resist, an international movement that calls on literary luminaries everywhere to reassert their commitment to the ideals of democracy.

Prominent writers from across the state — including Rios and others from ASU — will read diverse works from the American literary canon Sunday afternoon at Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix.

Friedman, who also serves as the director of the independent Phoenix-based lit magazine Four Chambers Press, worked closely with ASU associate professor of English Sally Ball to ensure the event would be a welcoming place for writers and the community at large to celebrate historical literary figures — such as Shirley Chisholm, Langston Hughes and Susan Sontag — for their unrelenting commitment to honest and meaningful critique of the aspects of American life that betray the country’s stated ideals, as well as their stirring homages to those aspects that honor them.

Compared with the often explosive and incensing dialogue taking place in public and private spaces, “this event is quieter, and therefore much more powerful,” Rios said.

ASU senior lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski, recently named the inaugural poet laureate for the city of Phoenix, plans to read from poet Diane di Prima’s “Revolutionary Letter 16,” which laments the mindless destruction of the environment in the name of modern convenience.

“I wanted to keep mine local, to bring some of the environmental issues that are grave in our state to people’s attention, given what could potentially happen with the EPA,” Dombrowski said. “It’s close to my heart, and it’s universally human.”

Sunday’s event will also raise awareness for a variety of nonprofits that serve the ideals of democracy in some way, Ball said. She hopes it will serve as a reminder for people of “how to live a meaningful life as a citizen.”

Ball also noted the diverse range of writers who will be in attendance. Friedman called the gathering unprecedented.

“I cannot think of a time in recent memory that such an impressive and diverse group of authors have come together in the state of Arizona for an event of this magnitude and scale, particularly one that is open to the public, free and advancing a renewed public agenda for the fundamental civil rights of free speech, self-determination and liberty,” he said.

Friedman and others involved agree that this isn’t the end of the story, though.

“Hopefully, everybody is going to take this spirit of activism back into their literary communities and continue forward,” Dombrowski said. “Hopefully, this gives people momentum. And fodder to work with, as well.”

 

Top photo: ASU senior lecturer and Phoenix Poet Laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski (left), ASU Regents' Professor and Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Rios, and ASU associate professor Sally Ball will read from their works at the Writers Resist event at  3 p.m. Sunday at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now