Writers Resist, January 16, 2017 – Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich

Writers in more than 80 cities on three continents are organizing independent Writers Resist events on January 15th and 16th. Here in Zurich, international and local writers will gather on January 16th, Martin Luther King Day, for an evening of pivotal readings that affirm our commitment to a diverse, compassionate, just and equitable world in increasingly authoritarian times. The event will be held in the historic home of the DADA movement, the Cabaret Voltaire. The program includes Irish, US American, Scottish and Swiss writers such as novelists Bettina Spoerri, Anne Korkeakivi and Jason Donald and poets Andrew Shields, Darcy Alexandra, and Padraig Rooney.

Spurred on by poet Erin Belieau, continue reading below about why I decided to join the initiative, or at The Woolf: Writers Resist: Holding Space for the Demands of Justice

On November 9th, the day after the US election, I found myself in Houston. Having finished a speaking engagement at the university, I was visiting a dear friend. In need of solace, we went to the Rothko Chapel—a gathering place for civil rights activists from around the world, and an interfaith sanctuary for contemplation.

During the election campaign, Drumpf’s disregard for the truth, and his hateful, divisive rhetoric frightened millions of us. The reality TV star turned authoritarian threat, this consummate anti-intellectual, doesn’t ‘do’ books. Or art. Or contemplation. How many of his campaign threats would he now carry out as president?

Digesting the gravity of the election results, we walked among Mark Rothko’s monumental canvases. We continued outside, past centenarian oak trees, toward the artwork of the Menil Collection—an extraordinary offering that is free and open to the public. Seeking meditation in the surrealism of André Breton, Max Ernst, Joán Miró, and others felt deeply revelatory.

On my return flight back to Switzerland, I thought about how the Dada movement had inspired surrealism, and how Dada began in Zürich during a time of tremendous grief and senselessness. A few days later, when poet Erin Belieu suggested via Facebook a Writers Resist event on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I knew I wanted to organize something at Cabaret Voltaire.

During this time, I was re-reading Dr. King’s final collection of essays, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? One of his key ideas about power influenced my concept for the event. King wrote, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love”. As a writer, I believe in the power of language. Writing has the ability to inspire us, to get us thinking in new ways, to nourish us.

I came to envision the event as a way to ‘hold space’ for the demands of justice—whether focused on, for example, social inclusion and diversity, environmental sustainability, or freedom of expression—while challenging hatred, or as King wrote, “everything that stands against love.” The concept was quite flexible: each author would have 10 minutes to share resonant readings from other writers, as well as something from their own work, if appropriate. I reached out to fellow American Anne Korkeakivi first, Anne suggested other international writers based in Switzerland, and from word of mouth, the program began to take shape. Because I was busy editing a short film and developing a new course at the University of Bern, I decided to do the bulk of the event outreach via Facebook, and once again, word of mouth.

When I first spoke to the folks at Cabaret Voltaire they told me that for similar events, and events organized on such a short timeline, they usually get between 20-30 people in the audience. How affirming that approximately 75-100 people attended the event—on a snowy, Monday evening! In fact, most of the Writers Resist readings—from Portland, Oregon, to Hong Kong to Amsterdam were standing room only. I find this encouraging—sometimes a good, old-fashioned public reading is just the medicine and just the spark in dark moments of time.

What I read:

Danez Smith – ‘Principles’ (after JFK)

Paul Laurence Dunbar – ‘Invitation to Love’

Darcy Alexandra – A Valentine for Cheryl