Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Writing to Change the World

For the past five years, the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati has honored Harriet Beecher Stowe's birthday by asking a writer to give the annual Harriet Beecher Stowe Lecture about, "Writing to Change the World." This year's speaker was journalist, Samantha Power, who received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. She also won the 2005 National Magazine Award for Reporting for her article, "Dying in Darfur," in The New Yorker.

Clearly, not all writers are cut out to do the kind of work Power does, but if you want your writing to have a larger purpose, here are a few resources for you:

August 23-25th is the Writing for Change 2007 conference in San Francisco. It was co-founded by two
literary agents, Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen.

Anya Achtenberg will be teaching an online workshop, Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World, later this year. You can subscribe to her blog here.

Achtenberg and Demetria Martinez co-taught Writing for Social Change at the Taos Summer Writers Conference last year. This August they will co-teach a workshop on memoir, “The World Outside-The World Within, Living and Writing Your Story," at the Leaven Center in Lyons, MI. The Leaven Center is a, "retreat and study center nurturing the relationship between spirituality and social justice."

HECUA (Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs) in Minnesota has a Writing for Social Change Program. Kristi Gee describes the program in her post, "Everyone is a teacher and a learner":
We take classes all day Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the opposite days, we work for a non-profit related to our study. So I will intern at the Loft, prolly with young writers or spoken word.

The idea is that students get to put social justice-ee ideas into practice. See how theory actually works. Everyone is a teacher and a learner. Engage in the world. Learn to think critically. That whole bit.

Whoop whoop! : Should be a really valuable learning experience.
Hopelark is hoping to join the program as well.

The nonprofit, Fahumu: Networks for Social Justice, produced Writing for Change: An Interactive Guide to Effective Writing, Writing for Science and Writing for Advocacy in 2000. You can order the CD-ROM, or read it for free online.

For more summer reading, check out Mary Pipher's, Writing to Change the World, or Jessica Singer's Stirring up Justice: Writing and Reading to Change the World. I haven't read either of them yet, so let me know what you think.

If you are a relatively unpublished American novelist whose writing has social change themes, you can apply for Barbara Kingslover's Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Past winners include Donna Gershten for Kissing the Virgin's Mouth, Gayle Brandeis for Book of Dead Birds, Marjorie Kowalski Cole for Correcting the Landscape and Hillary Jordan for Mudbound. You can check out Gayle's blog, Fruitful, here.

Finally, if you want to encourage young writers to write for change, the National Writing Project has published Writing for Change: Boosting Literacy and Learning Through Social Action in 2006. In her post, Diary of Writing for Social Change Research Project, Kris writes about a project she'll be doing with a group of teachers who will conduct research projects in their classrooms about writing for social change. They will be using the National Writing Project Book as their text.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

Toni Morrison said, "If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."

If you mix the two together, you've got writing to change the world.

Photo Credit: Royal by Dianna


  1. Wonderful post, Britt--thank you so much for including me!


  2. Anonymous11:35 AM

    Dear Britt,

    Thanks for mentioning my work on writing for social change. I am actually in the process of writing a book as well, after years of teaching and developing this material that looks deeply at the concepts and craft of writing in ways that reframe the process, and release its power for all kinds of writers.
    It is exciting, yes? the number of organizations and individuals who understand that whatever they do is connected to this urgent work of change. And the extraordinary opening of the arts as absolutely and intimately connected to the change we need in the world.
    At any rate, thank you so much for your work and your blog. I will be letting you know when my Writing for Social Change: Re-Dream a Just World Workshops will be taking place. I just taught some of this material at Skidmore College for the 30th annual conference of the International Women's Writing Guild, and it was another revelation. So many of us are talking about the same things in so many different ways; so many of us are aching for justice, and each in our ways figuring out how move a bit closer.
    Thanks so much.
    Anya Achtenberg
    (not ...burg, but...berg)

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