On the Possibilities for a Literature of Protest

On the Possibilities for a Literature of Protest

James McAdams | May 31 2020

On a day to day basis, even when things are normal, it’s still difficult to not feel foolish when people ask what you do and you say, while trying not to sound pretentious. “I am a writer.” Sometimes my interlocutors try to save me from how inane this sounds, asking “So you’re a reporter you mean? A journalist?”

“No, no. I write novels.”

“You mean you just make up stuff?”

“You could put it that way.”

And they spread their arms all around them and ask: “Why would you make something up when there’s all this around you?”

It’s a question I’ve never been able to answer. However, it has never struck with the force of divine suspicion, so I just went and did my little thing while the world turned, thinking to myself “Well, we all have to do our own little things.” This week has changed all that. As the nation has descended into, for me, unprecedented levels of civic unrest and political hatred, on top of economic depression and the COVID-19 pandemic, my inconsequential drafts of novel chapters and flash stories involving what my largely white privileged characters are saying and doing and wearing seems more and more, not just silly or ineffectual, but evil.

Silence, or what is the same, distraction, is complicit. But what can writers do? Or painters, musicians, computer programmers, etc. We’re not necessarily a demographic renowned for practical, quantitative, STEM-skills that solve problems. But we are creative, and a creative approach during these times is necessary, and happening already. Just some of the things I’ve heard about talking to other writers, Slacking with my colleagues at Barren Magazine, or scrolling through literature and art Twitter feeds, to help us imagine a Literature of Protest:

  • Some journals offer free/expedited/+feedback submissions for POC or otherwise marginalized (mental illness) during this period.
  • Writers can offer editorial guidance not just for poems/stories, but for professional documents, wills, resumes, legal stuff.
  • Work with protesters and civil rights leaders to engage with social media, weaponizing our lame Ph.D. knowledge to create posters with great penmanship, correct spelling, and awesome copywriting elan. 
  • I’ve seen painters on Twitter offering to make free posters and free portraits for POC, which is awesome. 
  • We’ve already heard rumors that Anonymous hacked the Minneapolis Police Department. 

So there’s a lot to do for people who can’t, for a variety of reasons, take to the streets. This is the time to prove an old liberal arts mantra, forgotten in this time of quantification and tech-porn: words matter, images matter, sounds matter, texture matters, everything weaves together to create a tapestry of peace, justice, and love: this is our flag. 





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