Wednesday, December 28, 2016

YubaLit: UNITED WE STAND: Writers Respond to Trump

Rachel Howard
Rachel Howard, speaker at the Sierra Writers Conference, is also the Founder of YubaLit, a Grass Valley/Nevada City program which features local and area writers every other month. It is a rich feature of our local literary scene. In January, Rachel continues her thought-provoking offering with the voices of writers discussing the divisive times we find ourselves in.

An opinion piece in The Union offers the following from Rachel:

I founded Yuba Lit in September of 2015, drawing on my contacts within the San Francisco literary community to book acclaimed novelists and poets, presenting them alongside the gifted and esteemed writers of our area, including Dayton Literary Peace Prize-winning novelist Josh Weil, and short story master Louis B. Jones.

In eight Yuba Lit evenings since, we’ve heard dozens of moving and commanding readings. But many of my favorite Yuba Lit moments happen not when the esteemed readers are sharing their work on the stage, but when we — the audience members, the flash readers, the literature-loving community — get to know each other during intermission and after the show.

And that has never been more true than in our increasingly divisive times. At the close of November’s Yuba Lit, held a week and two days after the election, an audience member approached to say she was uncomfortable with the plans I’d announced for January: A slate of writers whose readings will uphold values we’ll stand for during the Trump presidency. These values include diversity, freedom of religion, care for the environment, gender equality, and compassion for all.
This audience member worried that such a program would be divisive, and would exclude Trump supporters. She appreciated Yuba Lit and worried that the series should remain apolitical.
I hope anyone who loves literature and supports diversity, freedom of religion, care for the environment, gender equality, and compassion for all will come.
As I shared with this audience member, I thought long and hard on her concerns before announcing this program. I’ve continued to think on her concerns since. A number of eternally challenging questions come to mind, ranging from the role of art and literature in society, to where the line should be drawn between reconciliation and appeasement. One thing to me is clear: UNITED WE STAND: Writers Respond to Trump” is in spirit an inclusive event, and its values transcend politics. I hope anyone who loves literature and supports diversity, freedom of religion, care for the environment, gender equality, and compassion for all will come.

I could not be more thrilled about our lineup. At 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 20, we’ll hear from Sacramento poet Indigo Moor, Nevada City novelist Sands Hall, environmental writer Jordan Fisher Smith, recently-relocated Grass Valley poet Angela Sells and the owner of our venue, The Open Book, Will Dane.

We’ll also hold a special audience flash reading. Audience members who’d like to read will receive raffle tickets. Ten ticket holders will be drawn to read their responses to the prompt, “After the Election.”

Of the $10 cover charge collected at the door, 50 percent will benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I hope this evening of thoughtful and thought-provoking readings will serve a dual purpose, helping us to connect and organize in defense of these values, and providing a venue for open-hearted dialogue. As we all know, there is much of staggering consequence demanding response. Already Trump has appointed the head of a White Nationalist website as his chief White House advisor. Already he has named a climate change denier and ally of the fossil fuel industry the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Already groups attacking people of color and Muslims have been emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric — even in our backyard, as evidenced by the letter sent to the Islamic Center of Davis threatening, “He is going to do to you what Hitler did to the Jews.”
Since November’s Yuba Lit, I have thought often about another conversation from that evening. During intermission, a regular attendee gave me a hug, then said she had voted for Trump. We had a difficult, delicate conversation about Trump’s proposal for the government to register Muslims. This audience member supported the proposal; I did not.

At the end of our heated exchange, we were no closer to agreement. But the audience member stayed.
Was that conversation a first step towards possible understanding, or futile for us both? I don’t know. But I am grateful to her for staying. At one point she confessed to me that she had moved from the Bay Area to Nevada County to get away from “certain kinds of people” — people, I deduce, at least in some way like me. I don’t believe we really can “get away from each other.” Nor would I want that. So I am glad that Yuba Lit brought us together.

Whatever our discussions may bring, I have faith in the act of peacefully gathering. I believe that literary writers serve a unique role in society, one dedicated to truth and understanding. And I look forward to what these fine writers will share at the next Yuba Lit.

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