Soviet Literature in the Post-Soviet World: The Writing of Chinghiz Aitmatov

              To any student of classic Russian literature, it often feels as though Russian literary canon stopped after the transition to the Soviet era. However, there are many great Soviet literary works which exist in undeserved obscurity. Chingiz Aitmatov’s The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years is just as important as Western novels, like Orwell’s 1984, in reflecting the contemporary political and social climate while also illuminating surprising insights on today’s world.

           Aitmatov’s story is set at a railway junction on the steppe in Kazakhstan. Like a Soviet As I Lay Dying, the plot is centered around a journey for a burial. The story is told from the perspective of a railway worker named Burannyi Yedigei, who is remembering his life with his late friend Kazangap, while he walks with the funeral procession to an ancient desert cemetery. He remembers the Soviet period and the clashes between agents of the regime and the local politics of the region. These external forces intertwine with his own personal struggle of love and friendship on the crucible of the steppe. Yedigei’s narrative is intercut with scenes from a jointly run space station between the Soviets and the USA, which has been contacted by beings from another galaxy. Rockets launch to investigate from a site not far from Yedigei’s junction, and the rockets’ fires are visible in the sky.  

           The story includes elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and ancient Kazak legend. The broad temporal and thematic expanse reflects the diversity of the Soviet Union east of Moscow, as well as the political climate and its effects far from Western Europe. Aitmatov is prophetic in his writing regarding political authoritarianism, isolationism, and cultural memory regarding today’s relations between the East and the West.200px-ChingizAitmatov_TheDayLastsMoreThanAHundredYears

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Day_Lasts_More_Than_a_Hundred_Years

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Writers Resists’ Call to Action

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“The alarm, the disquiet, writers raise is instructive because it is open and vulnerable, because if unpoliced it is threatening. Therefore the historical suppression of writers is the earliest harbinger of the steady peeling away of additional rights and liberties that will follow. The history of persecuted writers is as long as the history of literature itself. And the efforts to censure, starve, regulate, and annihilate us are clear signs that something important has taken place” –Toni Morrison

Every year, Writers Resist facilitates several events across the nation, bringing together, “writers, readers, citizens, and community members to celebrate, reflect on, and find inspiration in the life and work of Toni Morrison,” (writersresisit2020.org). On March 29th, Writers Resist, in conjunction with HeadCount, a voting advocacy organization, will put on their “Write The Vote 2020” event. 

Writers Resist and HeadCount are using this event both to memorialize Morrison and to turn that loss into a force for positive change. This year, Writers Resist is focused especially on voter turnout. Citing the 2016 presidential election’s 60% national turnout, Writers Resist strives to empower writers and voters alike for the upcoming 2020 elections.

Writers Resist is using the hashtags #writethevote and #writethevote2020 to foster an online dialogue about voter advocacy and diversity. There’s already buzz building on the Internet about the upcoming events, and you can click on the hashtag to see what people have said about Writers Resist in years past. The Melrose Poetry Bureau (@MPoetryBureau) tweeted,

@PoetryPotty We invite you to & hope you will tweet a 3 line poem about voting or this election & tag it #WriteToVote

Meg Day (@themegdaystory), poet and professor, tweeted,

“Proud to be a part of the #WritersResist #WRITEtheVOTE2020 crew, but especially proud of this reminder: “Please keep this commitment to diversity in mind as you plan your event, & make sure that the ways in which you answer this call to action are inclusive & [#AccessibleAF].”

 To join the conversation, tweet with the hashtag #writetheovote2020, or visit their website, writersresist2020.org, to learn about the events and get engaged.

 

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Author Spotlight: Susan Choi

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Photo source: susanchoi.com

“It’s so hard to just decode the world. And when we’re teenagers, I think that we’re wildly improvising. We’re just sort of grabbing standards of judgment, we’re grabbing values out of the air, and hoping that they fit.” ­–From Alisa Chang’s interview with Susan Choi on All Things Considered

Susan Choi has emerged as one of the most inventive fiction writers of the last few years. Her latest novel, Trust Exercise, won the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, but Choi certainly isn’t a new author. Her first novel was published over 20 years ago, and her second novel was a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize. She has also written a collection of short stories, Wonderful Town: New York Stories, edited with David Remnick.

Trust Exercise is a must-read for anyone interested in a novel that can balance challenging subjects with entertainment value, but especially for any writer interested in social issues portrayed through narrative. Her novel begins in a performing arts high school, but midway through, breaks from a linear story structure by playing with the timeline. It’s been embraced as a #MeToo novel and lauded for its inventive structure that examines how stories are told, what happens when one’s life is written down, and how youth is remembered. Reading Trust Exercise makes the reader question who is narrating, and what voices can be trusted.

In 2019, not only did Choi publish Trust Exercise, she also released a children’s book. Readers can pick up a copy of Choi’s Camp Tiger along with their copy of Trust Exercises.

Trust Exercise has been optioned by Film Nation to be developed into a limited television series.

When Choi isn’t on her book tour, she teaches creative writing at Yale University and resides in Brooklyn, NY.

Written by Isaac Ruben

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The Coolidge Corner Theater

Coolidge

Photo Credit: WBZ-TV

We as writers and editors appreciate how respect for narrative storytelling can bring people together and reshape our horizons. This process is universal, whether it’s with words written on a page, or a screenplay brought to life by the flickering light of a movie projector. No matter the medium, all stories are written, edited, and shared to bring us closer together in experiencing them. The Coolidge Corner Theater, in Brookline, is a fantastic example of that mission.

The Coolidge does much more than show cult midnight movies. Its offerings are interdisciplinary, right down to the foundations. The theater was originally built as a church in 1906 and converted into a movie theater in 1933. They became a nonprofit in 1989 and have remained one since then. Their calendar includes showings of silent films with live accompanying orchestral scores, an education series where documentaries are paired with Q and A sessions with leading researchers, live dance performances, international indie films, and even a baby-friendly movie night where the sound is turned down and the house lights left on. The common element is the creation of a diverse community centered around the theater.

The Coolidge reminds you that you’re not alone in wanting something more than the standard “Regal Cinema experience.” With the analog projector and the art-deco architecture of the theater, the Coolidge attracts a vibrant community of people gathered to appreciate a piece of art and narrative storytelling.

Before many midnight showings, Mark Anastasio, the program manager and director of special programming, gives a short talk, reminding the audience how special it is to see a movie on “beautiful” 35 mm film or to be able to see a cult classic decades after its original release. However, he ends each talk with a call to action. “Tell your friends to come!” He exclaims excitedly. “We’re a nonprofit!”

Post written by Ryan Davis

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Literature of the Climate Crisis

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We have eleven years to cut global emissions in half. Scientists warn that anything less could raise the global temperature over 1.5 °C and create massive droughts, floods, extreme heat, poverty, and environmental emigration.

2019 saw a huge shift in the public’s awareness of the climate crisis. We’ve curated a reading list for those who want to learn even more.

 

Nonfiction

Environmental Books Nonfiction

This is Not a Drill (2019): A collection of essays written and collected by Extinction Rebellion members that will bring the urgency of the climate crisis into reality.

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019): A collection of award-winning environmental journalist Naomi Klein’s most poignant and inspiring articles on the climate crisis in the last decade.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019): In the midst of her exploration of the intersection of technology, memory, and humanity, Jenny Odell connects our tech-induced memory lapses to our lack of attention to our environment.

No One is Too Small to Make a Different (2019) : Greta Thunberg lit the world on fire with her passionate, scalding speeches on the urgency of the climate crisis. This collection documents some of her most inspiring words.

Daughter of Copper Woman: From creation myths to the bloody legacy of colonization, Anne Cameron documents the stories of indigenous women and the link between culture, feminism, and land.

 

Poetry

Environmental Books Poetry

“The Peace of Wild Things” (2018): First published in Wendell Berry’s collection of the same name, you can read the entire poem here.

“Lullaby in Fracktown” (2016): First published in Poetry‘s January 2016 issue, you can read the entire poem here.  This poem was written by Lilace Mellin Guignard.

“Once the World Was Perfect” (2015): First published in Joy Harjo’s collection Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, you can read the entire poem here.

“Of Age” (2017): First published in the New Yorker, you can read the entire poem here. This poem was written by Amit Majmudar

“2 Degrees” (2015): First preformed at an United Nations Climate Change event, you can read the entire poem here. This poem was written by Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner.

 

Fiction

Environmental Books Fiction

Oryx & Crake (2003): The first in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy, Oryx & Crake tells the story of a new species of people created specifically to survive the climate apocalypse.

The Lorax (1971): Dr. Seuss’s iconic and essential children’s story about the consequences of capitalism on the environment.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1996): Humans are barely surviving from the legacy of environmental destruction in this world crawling with giant insects, toxic air, and human greed.

The Road (2006): A father and child try to survive life on the road after a devastating apocalypse transforms the land around them.

Bone Clocks (2014): Author David Mitchell uses the landscape of a fantasy world to explore human nature and our relationship to the environment around us.

 

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How Slam Poetry Can Be Used As A Form of Protest

In today’s political climate where politicians sputter hasty tweets, ramble in convoluted circles without coming to a concrete answer, and strip away the voices of disenfranchised groups of people, slam poetry seeks to reclaim the voice as a tool for power. Though in the media, both politician’s and civilian’s words are often misconstrued or misinterpreted, slam poems seek to tell the poet’s truth about whatever topic they choose to recite. Slam poems are poetry spoken aloud to an audience, often with intense emotion conveyed through pointed word choice, syntax, rhythmic considerations, and a heartfelt, zealous voice.

In order to write a slam poem that delivers its intended meaning successfully, the poet must consider each individual word and syllable within it to deliver their intended meaning. Unlike typical poetry, which is not often read aloud, the writing of slam poems must consider both the written word and spoken delivery. Each word must have a determined, concrete meaning and be spoken through impassioned, dynamic dialogue. When done successfully, these poems are meant to incite emotion within the poet’s audience and can inspire change, or call to action. The meanings of these poems are meant to be understood universally, as opposed to much of the noninclusive language used in political rhetoric that often gatekeeps against those without higher levels of education and English language comprehension. While some politicians avoid giving concrete answers to pressing questions by beating around the bush, each word in a slam poem must be carefully chosen and articulated. Slam poetry allows for the speaker to thoughtfully deliver a message of what is important to them, and can serve as a form of protest and a platform- for everyone

Check out some of these slam poems below:

  1. Neil Hillborn “OCD” 
  2. Javon Johnson “Cuz he’s black”
  3. Savannah Brown “Moles don’t think about space or small talk”
  4. Sukhjit Khalsa- Slam Poem
  5. Savannah Brown “I wrote this happy”
  6. Jillian Rabideau “Rated R”

 

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Author Spotlight: Wendell Berry

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Wendell Berry, 85, on his farm in Port Royal, Kentucky. Guy Mendes / Vox

The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and wasteful.” -from Wendell Berry’s Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays, 1993

Wendell Berry is an American author of both fiction and nonfiction, a poet, essayist, environmental activist, and farmer. He has written extensively about the practices of agriculture, and the impacts it has on consumers, animals, and the planet. As environmental consciousness grows, Berry’s writings reflect an urgent and raw call for action and reform.

Though Wendell Berry has gained more traction and attention in the past decade, he is no newcomer to advocating for his environmentalist beliefs through writing. His more recent works have come to reflect a current dissatisfaction with the political character of our nation, most prominently regarding America’s animal agriculture practices and harmful destruction. Despite his dissatisfaction with the current governing and operation of American, Berry’s writing paves a road towards hope for future generations. By advocating for more sustainable, less environmentally taxing practices, he is helping to reform the agricultural landscape of modern society. 

In the world of today’s climate crisis, Berry’s work urge readers to actively take charge and make change in their communities. Global change begins with individuals making a conscious effort to lessen their negative impact on the environment around them. Young activists today can look to Berry’s writings for non-violent, environmentalist prose, which urges readers to end the destruction of the Earth, animals, and human beings. Berry believes that once we have the knowledge to recognize wrong in the world around us, it is our moral duty to try and make change or find solutions to the issue- as demonstrates in his participation in the 2011 Kentuckians for the Commonwealth rally/sit-in to end mountaintop removal coal mining. In “The Peace of Wild Things”, Berry discusses the discomfort of industrialization, and the contrasting solitude and serenity found in nature:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Post written by Emily Bunn

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