Sunday, September 19, 2010
Join the Loft's Peace and Social Justice Writer's group as they celebrate International Peace Day with a reading at the opening of the "A Peace of My Mind" exhibit, 6 p.m., at the Midtown Global Market.
Monday, October 19, 2009
It was there we encountered a member of the Combat Paper Project. Christopher Arendt, a lanky 25-year-old veteran with a stocking cap and tattoos on both arms, was in the middle of a weeklong residency where veterans of war cut their uniforms and pulp them into paper to be used for art projects and writing their stories. Arendt was busily preparing the green paper he made from his uniform to typeset the next page of his story.
"No, I was stationed at Guantanamo," Arendt said. "But I'm a member of the Iraqi Veterans Against the War." The Iraqi group broke into applause. Arendt then explained how he made the paper and ran a page through the press.
"For the first time I feel like my uniform is being put to good use," another veteran said.
A new Sister City relationship
Everyone in the room had made long journeys to reach this moment. The group from Najaf was part of a 14-member delegation in town to celebrate the new Sister City relationship between Minneapolis and Najaf. The visit from Sept. 18 to today is the first official exchange between the two cities.
On July 31, 2009, the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution by unanimous vote establishing Minneapolis and Najaf as official Sister Cities. A Sister City relationship is a formal agreement for sharing cultural, educational and citizen resources and for building relationships over the long term, both between the two cities and between individuals. The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) and its partner organization in Iraq, the Muslim Peacemaker Teams (MPT), spearheaded the Sister City initiative.
Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, had seen the focus of much of the U.S. war against Iraq. Many insurgents used the largest cemetery in the world located there as a hideout. As one of the holiest cities for the Shia — and a major pilgrimage stopping place because it is holds the tomb of Alī ibn Abī Tālib, whom the Shia consider the first imam — Najaf also suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein's reign.
These emissaries, 11 men and three women, came to Minneapolis for the sole purpose of fostering long-term relationships between the peoples of the two cities, to start a better relationship with America and make peace. As delegation member Kadhim Al-Mhanawi put it, "We come here so the message of peace can wipe out the message of war."
In addition to spreading a message of peace and reconciliation, the delegation also hopes to make contact with Americans who can help rebuild their city and nation. "You succeeded in bombing us into the Middle Ages," Al-Mhanawi said. Now he wonders what our next step will be. One of the greatest needs right now is the creation of a cancer treatment center in Najaf. There is only one such center in Baghdad, and people have to wait months for treatment after traveling great distances to be seen by a doctor. Cancer is now epidemic in Iraq. Partnerships to train doctors and health-care workers would go a long way to solving many of the current ills that beset everyday citizens of Iraq.
From engineers to public officials
The visitors represent a wide range of vocations: teachers, engineers, professors, city council members and the dean of liberal arts at the University of Kufa. And the women — a university professor, a PhD student and former city council member, and a Najaf Chamber of Commerce member — were clearly on equal footing with the men as they interacted with their Minnesota counterparts.
It was by chance this group encountered Christopher Arendt and the Combat Paper Project. Based at the Green Door Studio in Burlington, Vt., the project provides papermaking workshops worldwide. Its goal is to use art to help individuals reconcile their personal experiences and challenge traditional narratives surrounding service, honor and military culture. (You can read more about the Combat Paper Project here.) The Minnesota Center for Book Arts and the Susan Hensel Gallery were sponsors of the residency that the Najaf delegation happened upon.
Afterwards Christopher said to me, "I hope this story travels all the way to Najaf, where just one person can hear that I am sorry for what we did there."
And the visitors from Iraq hope next that a group of Americans will travel to Najaf in the coming year. Peace takes small steps like these to happen. And moments of serendipity.
Maxine Hong Kingston had already written three seminal works* by 1991 when, driving home from her father's funeral, she saw the hills of Berkeley burning, and with them the novel she was working on, The Fourth Book of Peace. She risked her life to save it, but nothing remained except a block of ash.
Faced with the question, "Do I start over?" Hong Kingston said no.
That's the short answer. The long answer is the story of the rest of her life and why she is this year's guest speaker for the English Department's Esther Freier Endowed Lecture in Literature Series. On September 30, Maxine Hong Kingston addresses the University community with a lecture titled, "The Art of Making Peace."
Hong Kingston is revered as one of this country's great living authors. "She is a figurehead for Asian writers in particular, and one of the best known Asian writers today," says Josephine Lee, associate professor in the Department of English and one of the founders of the University's Asian American Studies program. "Her work rose to prominence at a time when interest in ethnic literature and women's literature began to arise, answering what it means to be a writer of color and a woman," Lee says.
Lee notes how Hong Kingston's work is not dated. "People remain impressed by the beauty of her work and how fresh it still is." The themes of Hong Kingston's books have great resonance for the issues of our time: immigration, assimilation, exploitation, racism, transnational cultural identities, how violence structures memory, what it means to be an "American," and what exactly is literature.
Department of English professor and recent department chair Paula Rabinowitz interviewed Hong Kingston early in her career (Michigan Quarterly Review, 1982). "I had been doing research on her work," says Rabinowitz, "and much of her discussion was on genres. Hong Kingston clearly stated that her two books (The Woman Warrior and China Men) were not novels or fiction. It was eye-opening as to how a writer perceives her work compared to a critic." The interview has been reprinted many times and is a keystone in the discussion of Hong Kingston's literary career.
A chapter in The Woman Warrior titled "No Name Woman" is one of the most anthologized pieces of writing in contemporary American literature. "It is one of the texts," says Rabinowitz. "She invented the post-modern memoir."
After the fire
Hong Kingston has a long-standing commitment to peace, beginning in the 1960s with her days at UC Berkeley, where she protested the Vietnam War. After losing her unfinished novel to the Berkeley fire, she started working with veterans of war, forming writing groups to help veterans tell their stories. This work led to the publication in 2006 of Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace.
Hong Kingston has continued to go out on the streets, protesting the wars of this generation. She was arrested twice in 2003, for a protest against the war in Iraq and a Code Pink anti-war demonstration on International Women's Day (March 8).
And she has continued writing. One of her recent books is The Fifth Book of Peace, pulling together ideas from the lost novel (which was to be a sequel of Tripmaster Monkey) and setting them against the story of the fire and stories of growing up during World War II.
"It is important," says Rabinowitz, "to think of people as living writers, living people who are making tremendous contributions to the present."
Maxine Hong Kingston is a true role model for those who wish to live engaged in the present.
Maxine Hong Kingston presented the Esther Freier Endowed Lecture at the Sept. 30, Ted Mann Concert Hall. Free, hosted by the Department of English.
*The ground-breaking memoirs The Woman Warrior, China Men, and the edgy novel Tripmaster Monkey.
(Article originally published in The Brief, University of Minnesota. Photo by Gail K. Evenari.)
Friday, September 25, 2009
7:00 - 8:30 pm
The Loft Literary Center
Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Free - All are welcome!
The Loft’s Peace and Social Justice Writers Group will present a reading that celebrates peace and offers hope for the future
The Loft’s Peace and Social Justice Writers Group consciously explores the nature of peace, and through our activities aims to renew and maintain a sense of hope for the future. We gather monthly, and by sharing our writing and discussing works by writers who inspire and move us toward action, we endeavor to refine our talents and use our creative craft to promote peace and sustainable justice in our world.
The group meets the fourth Wednesday of the Month (January - October), 6:30-8:30 pm, at Open Book’s “Book Club Room,” third floor.
Come, join us as we gather at the crossroads of peace, creativity, and imagination
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Monday, April 6, 2009 7:00 P.M.
College of St. Catherine
2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul
Howard Zinn, Lou Bellamy, Winona LaDuke, Dipankar Mukherjee, Tou Ger Xiong, Isabell Monk O’Connor and many more will give voice to unsung people who have shaped history.
Featuring music and poetry of Jearlyn Steele, and Prudence Johnson. This performance is based on Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States.For more information, go to http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/Zinn
Friday, January 30, 2009
Before this day ushered in by destiny,
how long did we hold our collective breath?
The trees themselves held back their exhale.
Coyotes stopped serenading the moon.
The gay grasshopper put away his fiddle and donned black.
Instead of lullabies, mothers gave their children tears.
The distraught whippoorwill forgot her song.
Actors dropped their lines and sat down in the hushed audience.
Babies emerged from wombs silent, accusing.
Opera houses throughout the lands locked their doors.
A cellist broke a string and never played again.
The flamenco dancer fell out of time, then just fell.
The rock star ambled off the stage and even the radios grew quiet.
If children started to sing, they were told to hush.
On the streets they stopped saying please and thank you.
The perplexed stars asked each other, what happened?
Poets lost their metaphors, some could only write in verbs.
We all know what happened to the blues in New Orleans.
Then on this day ushered in by destiny, a sigh fills the world.
Listen to the collective in and out — mostly out.
We are learning to breathe again.
Soon you will hear the song. Listen.
The whippoorwill is about to sing.