Here at the American Writers Museum we believe writing matters. In such a tumultuous year we turned to writers for knowledge and comfort about a wide range of topics, such as the history of racial injustice, the science of pandemics, the intricacies of government policies and even what fabrics are best for masks. In short, writing mattered in 2020.
We’ve rounded up a few nuggets of wisdom and writing advice from some of the many writers we hosted for programs this year, both in-person and virtual. You can find the quotes below, as well as links to watch the programs in full on our YouTube channel, or listen to condensed versions of them as podcasts.
Someone Like Me
“I thought, if I can make a difference in just one child’s life because they read my book and something in my story resonates with them and they’re able to connect with it, then they can know that their stories are so important that people are writing books about them.”
The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, Jr., and the Debate Over Race in America
“For Baldwin this is the human conundrum. If you want to understand racism, homophobia, xenophobia, any ideology of exclusion, at the core is that human paradox, that fear that we have.”
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present
“Really the book is about the ways in which history is not a dry set of details and events from the past. The book is really about the ways in which history, and in particular federal Indian policy, lives through [Native Americans] in the makeup of our character. History is expressed in our lived experiences, oftentimes unconsciously.”
Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History
“We are getting some indication of the colossal existential crisis that people faced [during 1918 pandemic]. That real feeling that we haven’t had for generations, that our lives are at risk from something unknowable.”
The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition
“I wanted to center slave resistance in the story of abolition…Much of the literature that had been written on slave rebellions and resistance was separate from the story of abolition. And I felt it was really important not just to integrate African Americans back into the movement, but to integrate stories of Black resistance back into the history of abolition.”
Learn more about abolition, particularly the work and activism of Frederick Douglass at another of our virtual exhibits, Frederick Douglass: Agitator. Explore at FD-Agitator.org.
Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells
“For the writing that [Wells] did to be relevant today, in a way shows how things haven’t changed as much as we would hope. But it also ties the past to the present and I think that’s important for people to understand, that what is going on today is a continuum of what was going on post-Civil War.”
“This is the situation I was in: a difficult childhood, a tragic loss when I was nineteen. That was the situation, but it took a very long time to figure out what story I had to tell. It wasn’t simply that [my mother] was murdered, it was something else entirely and it’s made up of both what I remember and also the silences, the restraint that allows certain parts to shine through and others to recede into the background.”
Separated: Inside An American Tragedy
“The reason [Juan and José] let me tell their story was because he had the same questions I did. How did this happen and how can we prevent it from ever happening again? And when I say ‘it’ I want to be specific. American Academy of Pediatrics called this government-sanctioned child abuse. Physicians for Human Rights called this torture, what the American government did.”
Juan Felipe Herrera
Every Day We Get More Illegal
“Instead of more openness, the doors seem to be bigger and tighter and more locked up, in more ways than one. So I wanted to think about that and I want to have the readers and everyone reflect on those things. What kind of nation are we? What is America? Who are we?”