The other night I went to see “Stories We Tell,” a much-praised autobiographical documentary by Canadian actor and filmmaker Sarah Polley. (Stop here if you plan to see it and haven’t already.)
Today, May 17th, is ‘International Day against Homophobia’. It is an important day, as raising awareness and stigmatizing the stigma have proven to be valuable tools for advancing gay-rights issues, as well as a number of other social issues.
‘Homophobia’… What does that word actually mean? We take it to mean ‘afraid of homosexuals’ or ‘afraid of homosexual activities’, but it can be given a literal translation of ‘afraid to be gay’. When I do stand-up, I remark that I believe that I am, in fact, literally homophobic. I then explain that I studied theater at University and thus was terrified that I was gay, but didn’t know it! Most men around me were and seemed perfectly happy! I felt like the black… I mean gay… erm, I mean straight sheep, separate from the flock. I got over my foolish fear and am happy to come out and say, I did theater, and I am straight.
While I believe we should all be able to worship whatever and however we like, I don’t exercise that right in any traditional sense. When I left my parents’ home and went off to college, I stopped going to church, and haven’t really looked back. I don’t feel a void where once was the incessant standing-up-and-sitting-down that is synonymous with an Episcopalian service; I don’t miss the hour spent in church once a week listening to a robed man proselytizing before his congregation. When asked whether or not I consider myself to be a spiritual person, my reflexive answer is usually “I haven’t really made time for spirituality.” In some silly way, I think of cultivating my own spirituality as an item on some distant to-do list. But Pat Schneider’s new book, How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice, suggests I may have been cultivating my spiritual side without even realizing it – by writing.
For Schneider, writing is an inherently spiritual act; a kind of prayer:
“Both prayer and writing invite us to explore the full range of human awareness, out to the edges of what we have experienced and beyond, out to the edges of what we can intuit, and beyond. Both invite us to imagine, to be brave in what we imagine, and to keep the doors of our imaginings open.”
As a reluctantly spiritual person, this comparison made by Schneider initially made me uncomfortable. I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to prayer, to thinking about a higher power, or to worshipping some larger, unknown force. Perhaps this is because on my own bumpy path through our often crazy world, I have come to take comfort in the fact that at the end of the day, I must rely on myself. When things feel impossible I tend to turn inward to the reservoir of strength I’ve come to realize I possess, rather than reaching outward to a mystical presence. But this, in some sense, is Schneider’s point. (more…)
It’s been six months since Hurricane Sandy. New York City and New Jersey were hit hardest and communities are still rebuilding. People are still struggling to get their lives back on track. It has been particularly difficult for small businesses. The South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan, a hub for shops, restaurants, and entertainment, was under water during Sandy. Many of those businesses are still closed, or in the process of being renovated. As I recently walked through the Seaport, I felt the cold of its cobblestone walkways. Few people were out, and the few I saw were mostly tourists taking pictures of the now gated property. Doors with huge locks on them and sandbags are now the neighborhood’s main attraction. Fulton Market is completely closed.
The mall is like a ghost town. Some stores are closed, and those that are open remain empty. Booths that were once surrounded by people are gone. Of the few that remain, only one person lingers there. The food court is quiet. Some of the popular restaurants are closed, including the Harbour Lights Restaurant. People congregate outside where the Brooklyn Bridge is seen in the distance. Damage to the exterior of the pier is still evident. (more…)
Each year 40 young people participate in NY Writers Coalition’s six-week series of free outdoor creative writing workshops and in an end-of-summer reading, the Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival. Lit Fest presents well-known, established writers reading alongside the young writers from the workshops.
NYWC’s summer writing program for youth honors the power of the written word to build inclusiveness and give voice to the thoughts and experiences of everyone, not just the privileged and powerful. Past Lit Fest readers include Amiri Baraka, Jennifer Egan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rick Moody, Gloria Naylor, Sapphire, Sonia Sanchez, Colson Whitehead and many others.
Due to funding cuts by the National Endowment for the Arts, NYWC must raise $6,000 before the summer. It costs NYWC $25 per young writer (per week) to provide the Fort Greene Park Summer Youth Workshops free of charge to the public, totaling $150 per writer for the summer.
Please consider making a contribution here so that we may continue to provide this program to the dedicated and talented writers of tomorrow — and remember to join us for this year’s Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival on August 24!
NY Writers Coalition has helped unheard voices be heard for over ten years now by way of our city-wide workshops, reading events, and NY Writers Coalition Press publications. This year, we’re happy to dip our toes into another golden pond with our first film, Voices of NY Writers Coalition.
Here, a few of NYWC’s dedicated workshop leaders and participants discuss the work, share their writing, and remind us of the importance of bringing voice to the voiceless in New York City.
Special thanks to Louise Crawford, Erick Fix, and Marian Fontana for their hard work in making this video happen, as well as to all the writers and workshop leaders who appeared in the film. Enjoy!