Monday, March 23, 2009

Populism or Privilege?

That's the choice American literature needs to make. It's really not a difficult choice.

It's not as easy as protesting, say, Adolf Hitler. That's pretty safe. Or faraway China. Even coming out against toxic waste dumps is fairly noncontroversial.

But protesting those who wrap themselves in the mantle of goodness?

I have the sense that some writers are on the sidelines regarding this petition, waiting to see who'll jump first. That's not how change is made.

Right now, however glamorous or glorious its mission, PEN American Center is basically a swanky salon for the most connected writers in America. They hold black-tie parties where they pat themselves on the back for how liberal and progressive they are. But the vast bulk of America, and the bulk of American writers, including some very good ones, are ignored. It's the essence of aristocracy, which I thought in recent days had become outmoded.

This was a brutal winter. In New York, poet Yarrow was evicted from her apartment in a snowstorm. In Philly, FDW survived in a beat-down rowhouse without heat or hot water. I myself had a very tough time in Detroit. These stories could be multiplied many times over. In a severe winter, many of our writing brethren exist like Francois Villon-- believe it-- while others celebrate their wonderfulness at glowing affairs surrounded by cocktails in crystal goblets, silver trays of food, the hum of facile conversation, and their own sense of privilege.

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