Chucking “Art for Art’s Sake” – Writers and Social Impact

will write for social changeOne morning in late September, I found myself backstage at the “Annual Day of Peace” in Covington, KY—an event that kicks off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’d been asked to perform a song I wrote about my family’s history of domestic violence, and was listening as speakers urged the young audience to find—and use—their voices to prevent violence. I wondered how many listeners were writers, performers, artists, and how many might go on to use their art as voice, changing their communities in the process.

audrelordeLeaving that day and re-entering the media binge on the word “shutdown,” I couldn’t help thinking about writers around the globe: how we use our voices; whether (and how) we’re heard. I also couldn’t help thinking of Audre Lorde:

We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine. Maybe because we do not listen to our poets…

Creative writing has the potential to change perceptions, elevate public discourse, inform, protest, and/or bring awareness to difficult issues and situations. Could we do more with this potential? Should we?

is this gonna get political


Before anyone gets politi-scared, hark! I don’t believe writers should start “politicizing” all our work, or Woodie-Guthrie-ing our poems for the greater good. But I do believe that if we’re moved by any current economic, cultural, political, and/or social suffering, there’s a place for us—and our craft—in the fray.

But how? Where? If you’re interested in finding your writerly place in this kind of work, here are three steps even non-“activist” writers can take to dive in:

  1. Identify Our Stories
  2. Re-imagine “Going Public,” and
  3. Chuck “Art for Art’s Sake.”

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Literary Boroughs #34: Lexington, KY

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the thirty-fourth post on Lexington, Kentucky, by Lindsay Sainlar. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Look at this map of Kentucky. On the squiggly-line northern border, defined by the Ohio River, you’ll find Louisville – where I was born and raised. This River City is the birthplace of Hunter S. Thompson and the song, “Happy Birthday to You.” It’s where ZZ Packer lived for bit, and incorporates into her writing. Where Sena Jeter Naslund is editor of The Louisville Review at Spalding University. Jay Gatsby was stationed here, and Louisville is where he met and fell in love with local Daisy Buchanan. And let’s not forget about the The Kentucky Derby.

Now drag your eyes east away from the blue dot in this red state, and stop when you find the second biggest Kentucky city, Lexington—where I now live. Once known as the Athens of the West, this city is claiming to be the literary hub in a state that’s working hard to establish itself as the Literary Capital of Mid-America.

Is that crazy? I don’t think so. I mean, we’re Kentuckians.

We know how to tell stories and drink bourbon.Continue Reading