“Good writing takes place at intersections, at what you might call knots, at places where the society is snarled or knotted up.”
– Margaret Atwood
In all the gloom and doom news that seems to come from the publishing world these days, I’ve just found cause to applaud some good that’s being done. Author Dave Eggers and physician/human rights scholar Lola Vollen have founded a nonprofit division of McSweeney’s Books called Voice of Witness, meant to empower those most closely affected by contemporary social injustice. “Using oral history as a foundation, the series depicts human rights crises around the world through the stories of the men and women who experience them.”
I’ve just been reading their latest release, Inside This Place Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, compiled and edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman. These narratives are incredibly compelling. To me, they are a reminder of how thin the line is between those of us who thrive and those of us who struggle, and how much our lives can be changed as a result of bad circumstances, bad choices, or bad luck. Would any of us be the same people if we were born in less comfortable neighborhoods? We judge so harshly, sometimes, and yet from reading these narratives, you will see, we often subject women prisoners to circumstances from which any result other than a downward spiral is surely a miracle.
But read Maria Taylor’s narrative, for example. See how a life can be changed by someone who cares.
And set Eggers, Vollen, Levi, and Waldman high on the list of writers contributing to a better world. Put them up there with Masha Hamilton and her fabulous Afghan Women’s Writing Project. Reading Inside This Place Not of It has certainly left me thinking, among other things, of the importance of writing in a way that contributes to a better world. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Meg