Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
This Sunday, Jan. 15 – Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday – writers across the United States and Europe will come together for Writers Resist, an event focused around the “re-inauguration of our shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech, and the fundamental ideals of democracy.”
As of now, more than 75 events have been organized in the U.S. and abroad, reaching as far as Zurich, Switzerland. Reflecting the spirit of this movement, Writers Resist SATX will bring together more than 100 South Texas poets and writers for a mass reading as part of a communal joining of diverse voices and viewpoints.
The free event, which will take place at Alamo Beer Brewery, 202 Lamar St., from 1-8 p.m., aims to provide a creative, inclusive space for people to come together and give their voice to the values they most treasure and believe need to be preserved under a Donald Trump administration and beyond. All of this coincides with DreamWeek, a 16-day summit that promotes tolerance, equality, and diversity through various programming.
So how did this all come about? The results of last November’s election have given a lot of us pause for thought, and this seems especially true for San Antonio’s writers. As a result, award-winning poet Wendy Barker, San Antonio Poet Laureate Jenny Browne, and Gemini Ink Executive Director Sheila Black, along with other local writers and organizations, began discussing the idea of planning a large-scale reading to mark the end of the 2016 presidential campaign season and the beginning of the Trump presidency.
They soon joined their planned event with an ongoing national effort of poets and writers, Writers Resist, convened by PEN Center USA.
“In a practical sense,” Browne said, “Wendy Barker and Gemini Ink were already in discussion about planning a literary event in response to the election, and I suggested we partner up with the larger Writers Resist movement generated by poet Erin Belieu. Erin is a poet-activist and one of the founders of VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts who sent out a call to writer friends suggesting organizing a more focused response. PEN America joined in and is sponsoring a flagship event in NYC.”
And out of this, Writers Resist SATX was born.
Browne summed up some of the soul-searching many writers were experiencing post-election.
“I think that many writers were already taking a hard look at their work, wondering how best to use language to speak to what had begun to feel like a dismissal of the power of truth,” Browne said. “Many writers, myself included, felt that an election season that normalized hate speech and suggested that divisive language was ‘just talk’ stood in direct opposition to our commitment to all the ways that language matters, connects, and changes us for good.”
Browne was quick to clarify that the marathon reading planned for this Sunday “is not an anti-Trump event, nor even explicitly political,” but pointed out that “resistance is a political act.”
“I feel this event is important to affirm the real American values – the ones written on the Statue of Liberty, for example – that affirm a vision of kindness and plenty, justice and equality, a country that has its doors open, where neighbors care about each other, where everyone is free to pursue happiness as they choose,” Black said.
“We are not sure what this administration will bring in terms of challenges to our democratic values, but we can use our voices to affirm what we believe to be true about our nation and ourselves as citizens.”
The free, seven-hour Writers Resist SATX is open to all ages. The roster of readers includes writers from all over the city, such as Dr. Octavio Quintanilla, Sharon Olinka, Jim LaVilla-Havelin, Anel Flores, Christopher “Rooster” Martinez, Bryce Milligan, and Dr. Carmen Tafolla, to name a few.
The event also will feature live music by local talents such as The Jazz Poets of San Antonio, Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, and The National Standard, a group comprised solely of English teachers from the International School of the Americas.
As a veteran poet and creative writing professor at UTSA, Barker found herself combatting her own feelings of despair after learning the results of the election, but her depression “turned to anger then to energy” once she decided to organize public readings, she said.
Like Browne, Barker believes vehemently in the power of words.
“I know from my decades of teaching how words can free people — readers and listeners. I know that poetry, fiction of all sorts, short stories, novels, and creative nonfiction can literally change lives, can heal,” she said. “Places that can’t be reached during ordinary discourse can be touched, and touched deep down. And I know the damage that can be done when we are silenced.”
When asked what she hoped Sunday’s mass reading would accomplish, Browne was candid: “I hope that both readers and listeners feel less alone with their feelings of uncertainty, and their fears of marginalization. I also hope it is the beginning of an ongoing conversation that inspires people to continue speaking up against hate speech, calling their representatives to advocate for issues that matter to them, and indeed, continuing the dream as MLK imagined it.”
She also conveyed the excitement of joining a larger Writers Movement.
“You have writers wanting to speak more clearly for basic democratic ideals and you have communities wanting to bring diverse voices together,” Browne said, “and you have the opportunity to do it all on the same day and make some noise together.”
And that’s what these South Texas writers plan to do — make a noise that they can believe in and celebrate.
“As an artist it is our job to name our culture,” said Viktoria Valenzuela, a poet who will share her voice on Sunday. “I plan to be loud all four years. And beyond, of course.”