Book/Mark with Susanne Davis: “Using Stories to Make a Difference”
December 12 • 6:30 pm - 8:00 pm $5.00
Tuesday, December 12: Book/Mark with Susanne Davis: “Using Stories to Make a Difference” Carriage House Barn; $5; 6:30 p.m.
Author and writing instructor Susanne Davis uses The Appointed Hour, her new book of short stories — all set in rural Connecticut — to talk about the ways in which stories can make a difference in the world. She writes: “Since the surprising result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, like most other Americans, I’ve been trying to figure out the truth of things. I’ve watched and read the news of the day and then talked myself back from the edge of fear…fear about Russia’s interference with our election results, fear about insurance coverage and racism and intolerance for diversity in our nation. People are taking to the streets, standing up for what they believe in and I ask, what do I believe in? I believe that we are connected, all of us, liberals and conservatives, and that division, even the most seemingly deep divisions, may illuminate a deeper human connection if we are willing to cross the river of misunderstandings. I believe it is the role of writer to act as bridge, with stories of witness to help those on either side of the river cross over to understand the other side.
American essayist and critic Albert Murray said when a time seems out of joint, it is the writer who sounds the alarm. The alarm has been sounded and we have two choices: stay asleep or wake up. If we stay asleep we don’t have to think about the problems of the world. We may choose to insulate ourselves and shore up our defenses. The disadvantages of this approach is that ignoring the truth that our humanity connects us to everyone else on this planet makes us accomplices to inequity, injustice, and the human misery that will continue to rise up in protest until more equity, peace and justice are achieved.
When we wake up and see how the time is out of joint (though we may each see differently how it is out of joint), then from our creative imagination a power may arise. This is a power writers harness with words to reorder the chaos of the universe into beauty and possibility. Readers, who are everyday citizens like you and I, look for writers to show them another way to see and feel about things. A way to understand. Understanding breeds hope. Hope is not a gloss over toxic elements needing to be cleansed, but rather a quickening to the possibility of change.
Writers see in words and stories. Through stories, we offer characters who might be like or unlike us, and the set of actions and circumstances that lead them to their actions. We use words to help people jump into the skin of the other and live that life for a while to gain insight and compassion. Caring moves us to compassion, which diminishes the gap between the powerful and the powerless. Caring becomes a bridge to understanding.
Let me share two stories as example. First the story of Russian dissident poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), so beloved by her people that the Russian government could not kill her, as they did so many of her fellow writers. Instead, the government imprisoned her son. While she waited at the prison gates to get word of him, a woman recognized her and asked if she could write “about this,” meaning the suffering of people under Stalinist terror. Thus began her famous poem, “The Requiem,” decades in the making, verses of which her friends smuggled out of her apartment on cigarette wrappers, at risk to their own lives. The Russian government so feared the power of her witness that it censored Akhmatova for decades and for a time kept her under house arrest. She was made to go to her window each day so that people could see that she was still alive and that the government had not killed her.
Let us not underestimate the power of people or the forces that would undercut their power.
The second story is of American writer James Agee (1909-1955) and photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975), commissioned by Fortune Magazine to write a series of articles on poor whites in the rural South. Fortune rejected the articles and photographs they produced, but after revising and expanding, the story of three sharecropper families was published as Let Us Now Praise Famous Men which Agee called “an independent inquiry into certain normal predicaments of human divinity.”
I believe we are connected by this “human divinity” as Agee calls it, and that it is an important time for writers to give the news of the day and also stories to help us understand our connection. I thank Cornerstone Press for publishing The Appointed Hour which through linked stories gives voice to people often unseen in our culture.