Greater Boston Writers Organize To Defend Freedom Of Expression In Trump Era

The Boston Public Library as seen in June 2015. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Boston Public Library as seen in June 2015. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Whether by demanding attention to the facts, spurring a journey of the imagination or bending the light toward the truth, all writing resists something: ignorance, silence, injustice, tedium, complacency with the status quo.

Inspired by a national movement started in 2017, a group of Boston writers are rallying to celebrate resistance and persistence, and "to voice their solidarity against the divisive tactics employed by the current administration and its supporters," according to their Facebook event.

Greater Boston Writers Resist/Writers Persist will bring together a dozen local writers at the Boston Public Library on Saturday, June 23. They'll read from their work, "talk about the importance of self-expression, writing about politicized issues and how the political remains deeply personal," and participate in a Q&A with the audience.

The call to action posted online is pointedly urgent and broadly inclusive: “Since [January 2017], our First Amendment rights have faced ongoing attacks... Yet many writers, in Boston and beyond, have committed years and pages to counteracting the work of those in power who would undermine equality, abolish diversity, and silence freedom of expression.”

The organizers are careful to not impose a strict definition of what the writing of the resistance could be, who does it or what it should be about. The presenters slated are creative writers, scholars, journalists, historians and activists, for whom resistance has taken many different shapes on the page.

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, whose “The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir” recently won a Lambda Literary Award says, “As a queer woman, it feels political whenever I put my life on the page.” Carissa Halston, host and lead organizer of the event, cites the power of “taking stances in writing to make readers feel whole, to make readers feel seen” and points out that those stances may be reflected in fictional plot-lines or characters. Alex Myers is an advocate and educator for supporting transgender students; his novel “Revolutionary” tells the story of his ancestor who disguised herself as a man and fought in the Revolutionary War. JoeAnn Hart’s publications include “Float,” a dark comedy about plastics in the ocean.

Greater Boston Writers Resist gathering was held at the library in January 2017, spurred by poet Erin Belieu's call for writers to organize events on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The flagship event took place in New York City, with parallel gatherings across the country and around the world, including the one in Boston. Since, Writers Resist has become “a national network of writers driven to #WriteOurDemocracy by defending the ideals of a free, just and compassionate democratic society.” Although Greater Boston Writers Resist/Writers Persist 2018 is not formally affiliated with the network, it follows in the same spirit.

Daniel Pritchard, who helped organize Greater Boston Writers Resist in 2017, says, “I feel like [some writers’] great power is this kind of clarity, sharpening, taking an unwieldy difficult issue and saying, ‘Here is this poem.’ ” For example, one of the presenter's this year, Simone John, draws her poetry collection, "Testify," from evidence and recordings of the arrest of Sandra Bland and the Trayvon Martin trial.

Novelist and professor Kim McLarin says writers can also play an important role in resistance by looking for what needs to change within themselves and their own communities.

“As much as Boston writers need to resist Trumpism, we also need to examine our writing institutions, our publishers, our English departments, our employers, our neighborhoods, our towns, our schools and our lives for the ways in which oppressive ideologies in general, and white supremacy in particular, continue to operate,” says McLarin, who will read from her forthcoming collection of essays, “Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life.”


Writer and creative writing professor Jennifer De Leon. (Courtesy Daniel Portal/NEFA)
Writer and creative writing professor Jennifer De Leon. (Courtesy Daniel Portal/NEFA)

The organization is also looking to the future of the writing community. Two young writers from Margarita Muñiz Academy, Boston’s only public bilingual high school, will present at Greater Boston Writers Resist/Writers Persist. They are working with writer and creative writing professor Jennifer De Leon (also a presenter) on a literary and video project entitled “American Dreamers Write: Reclaiming Our Stories.” The short film showcases a collage poem that draws from 14 students’ creative writing on the theme of immigration. “Student voices are so critical in this whole conversation,” De Leon says.

Readers are part of the conversation, too; their attention and support can help fuel writers' resistance and persistence. “The demand for equality and diversity and the protection of First Amendment rights has to be ongoing and has to be for everyone,” says Halston.

Greater Boston Writers Resist/Writers Persist is Saturday June 23 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Boston Public Library.


Emily Avery-Miller Writer, The ARTery
Emily Avery-Miller has contributed reviews, essays and prose to publications including Art New England and Foreword Reviews.



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