What Everyone is Asking

Why do my stories matter? When the icebergs are melting. When mass shootings are the new norm. When corruption has infiltrated our leadership.

What possible good could come of sitting still, useless, at my desk, writing words that no one else may ever see? When we’re still waging war in two countries (officially) and in who knows how many others (unofficially).

Isn’t the real way to make a difference on the front lines of protests, relief work, organizing?

As someone who teaches creative writing, I am faced with these questions again and again. My students ask them often. Recently, I’ve turned to adrienne marie brown’s book, Emergent Strategy (the author chooses not to capitalize the first letters in her name). She, in turn, has quoted many-a-wise creative thinker. Here are two quotes she finds useful:

“Ursula LeGuin recently said, ‘It’s up to authors to spark the imagination of their readers and to help them envision alternatives to how we live.’” (from her 2014 acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation’s medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters)

“Toni Cade Bambara, a Black feminist writer-organizer who left lots of wisdom for us, said two things that I turn to when I start to wonder if art is enough of a contribution. On one hand, as I referenced earlier, she said, ‘The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.’ On the other hand, she said that ‘Writing is one of the ways I participate in transformation.’”

To me, the messages these two women impart give me all the strength I need to fend off doubt if it takes the form of Why do my stories matter?. Sparking the imagination is no small feat, and I believe is it an act of generosity and hope when one human being can do that for another–through any medium (conversation, painting, theatre, textiles, you name it). I can only speak for myself and my own writing process, but I suspect that I’m not the only one who also feels “transformed” when I have completed a piece of writing that I know is ready to meet the world. The transformation is complete when it does meet that world; if even just one reader is moved toward compassion or new perspective, I have succeeded. I have cast one seed in the revolution, and done all I can to see it bloom.

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