Power of the pen: writers use MLK Day to speak freely

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Writers Resist is a national and international exercise in freedom of expression. On Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (Jan. 15), writers across the United States and internationally will gather at local Writers Resist events for what national organizers are calling “a ‘re-inauguration’ of our shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech, and the fundamental ideals of democracy.”

The flagship event of Writers Resist, co-sponsored by PEN America, is planned to take place at the steps of the New York City public library and features such writers as American poet laureates Rita Dove and Robert Pinsky. (Both are not part of events set to take place in Taos.)

The Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) is hosting a Taos Writers Resist reading from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday (Jan. 15). SOMOS is located at 108 Civic Plaza Drive. This is a free event, and all are welcome to attend.

Donations will be collected and gifted to the DreamTree Project, directed specifically to support the organization’s work with LGTBQ youth.

Those interested in reading for the event may sign up by calling SOMOS at (575) 758-0081 or emailing somos@somostaos.org. Readings will be limited to three minutes. Musicians and song writers are also welcome.

There are more than 50 Writers Resist events planned in cities and towns across the United States, including Boston, Massachusetts; Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Omaha, Nebraska; and Seattle, Washington. Events are also scheduled for Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands; Hong Kong in China; London, England; Singapore; and Zürich, Switzerland.

According to a press release, poet Erin Belieu organized the Writers Resist movement out of concerns that “public cynicism” and “disdain for truthfulness” arising from the recent United States presidential campaign cycle were eroding the ideals of democracy. Belieu, who also co-founded VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, posted a call to action for Writers Resist on Facebook the day after the U.S. election. She was met with a strong positive response.

“Writers are acutely aware when the uses of language are empty,” Belieu said in the press statement.

She continued, “Whether you live in a red or blue state, or another country that cares deeply about the American experiment, there is no more important battle than our right to truth.”

Belieu said this round of Writers Resist events is “only a starting point in raising our voices in defense of democracy.”

Writers Resist is not associated with a political party. “We wish to bypass direct political discourse in favor of an inspired focus on the future, and how we, as writers, can be a unifying force in protection of democracy,” reads an excerpt from the event guidelines posted on Writers Resist’s website (writersresist.org). “The only thing we ‘resist’ is that which attacks or seeks to undermine those most basic principles of freedom and justice for all.”

Locally, SOMOS Executive Director Jan Smith is organizing the Taos Writers Resist event.

She anticipates around two dozen writers will read. The Taos event will conclude with the premiere of the one-act play “Axel and Abel,” which was written by Judith Rane. The 10-minute play is based on the book “The Cellist of Sarajevo” and will be performed by Rane and Judith Kendall.

While readers are invited to make their own selections for the Taos event, Smith pointed out that there are national guidelines that are being observed, which include not using the names of politicians or “anti” language.

“I don’t want this to turn into a rant session. It’s not about vilifying individuals,” clarified Smith. “This is an event to provide an honoring and respect for the role writers have historically played at times when freedoms are in danger.”

The guidelines further suggest that while writers might read from their own works, they can also highlight readings from “a selection of diverse writers’ voices throughout history that speak to the ideals of democracy.” Smith will be providing specific guidelines to those readers who sign up for the Taos event.

“It’s not just allowing a liberal progressive view, but it’s allowing any view the same honor and respect,” Smith continued.

“I think it’s a good time for people to be reminded about that old saying, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword,’ and to reflect back on some of our famous writers, all the way from Revolutionary times to abolitionists to the civil rights movement to all kinds of protest writers who have rebelled against the common thought and commonly held beliefs to be able to express themselves and the power that they had, maybe not immediately, but eventually, in helping people to see another viewpoint and consider it,” said Smith. “I’m thinking of all the pamphlets the abolitionists distributed during the pre-Civil War and the post-Civil War years and then all the work that women suffragettes did to acquire the vote for women – a lot of that was through speaking and writing. ... That writing is an action. It’s a nonviolent action, which makes it even more perfect.”

For more information, call (575) 758-0081.

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