I know I often write about how honored I’ve been to have received this award or that nomination, to have been invited to this reading or that lecture, to have my name mentioned alongside the names of other writers I admire. I never use the word casually. I mean it sincerely every single time. I always wanted to be a writer, but I began writing seriously later in life, and I’m still amazed that my work has been published at all and that I’m a member of a creative writing program, much less one as respected as the University of Wisconsin’s. Both those things–being a published writer and teaching–were beyond my wildest dreams, so when someone acknowledges my work when there are so many better and more prominent writers around–well, that’s even farther beyond those dreams, and I’m not kidding around; I am truly, deeply honored.
But having used the word honored in all those other contexts means that I’m now in need of a word that means “honored and then some.” Honored-plus? Super-honored? Full-fat honored? HONORED in all caps? Because that’s how I feel about having been invited to be a featured reader at the Madison Writers Resist event on Sunday, January 15: extra honored with a cherry on top. If you want the time and place, you can jump to it by clicking here.
But in this post, I wanted to say a little something more about this reading.
As a great many American citizens are aware, Writers Resist is an international movement that was conceived after the US election by the poet and activist Erin Belieu. The idea is elegant and powerful: on January 15, 2017, the date of Martin Luther King’s birthday, writers, readers and citizens seeking solidarity and inspiration will gather in their cities and towns to hold what is described as “a ‘reinauguration’ of our shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech, and the fundamental ideals of democracy.” To date readings are being held in about 75 locations, from New York and Boston to Seattle and San Francisco to Zurich and Hong Kong.
The Madison event, which is a fundraiser for the Wisconsin ACLU, takes place from 6 to 9pm. It was organized by Sean Bishop, Kara Candito, Ron Czerwien, and Rita Mae Reese, four formidable poets who live here in Madison. The readers have been asked to read briefly from relevant passages of either their own work or the work of other writers who inspire them. After these readings there will be an open mic.
The featured readers in Madison include Masood Akhtar, Marilyn Annucci, Moisés Villavicencio Barras, Araceli Esparza, Fabu, Dale Kushner, Lissa McClaughlin, Rubén Medina, Oscar Miralis, SP Mulroy, Timothy Yu, and me, as well as all 6 of this year’s Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing fellows, Derrick Austin, Jamel Brinkley, Natalie Dawn Eilbert, Sarah Fuchs, Marcela Fuentes, and Barrett Swanson. I know many of these writers and am genuinely excited to hear them read, one after another.
Making it all just a little more special is the location of the reading, the beautiful Gates of Heaven, a former synagogue adjacent to James Madison Park. It helps make this feel like an almost spiritual event. I believe it will be a consoling event, a healing event.
My teacher Marilynne Robinson (talk about honors–not much beats having Marilynne Robinson as your teacher) once told us that the English who colonized this country did not celebrate Thanksgiving once a year as we do today or as suggested by the traditional Thanksgiving stories we were told as children. Rather, she said, whenever the religious leaders believed something had occurred that gave them particular reason to express gratitude to their god, the colonists would gather together in church and as a community give thanks. These were known as days of thanks-giving and they occurred frequently throughout the year.
We have had many days of coming together in fear and despair of late. I see the Writers Resist readings as a worldwide day of thanksgiving. We give thanks for our voices, our convictions, our ferocity, our freedoms, our intellects, our imaginations, our power. That we in Madison will be gathering in the once-sacred Gates of Heaven to read to one another on this day of thanks-giving makes our event all the more moving.
And so, once more, the details: Sunday, Jan. 15, 6 – 9pm, the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 302 E. Gorham St. Featured readers will begin at 6pm and an open mic will follow.