On January 15 — Martin Luther King Jr.'s actual birthday — writers, activists and community members will come together at Stony Brook Southampton beginning at 2:30 p.m. as part of Writers Resist, a nationwide movement to honor democracy and celebrate the history and promise of a diverse nation.
On the same day, hundreds of others in cities across America will be gathering for a "re-inauguration," an affirmation of their shared commitment to equality and justice. As fliers for the afternoon programs in Southampton point out: "You don't have to be a writer to resist."
Cosponsored by the MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton, Canio's Books in Sag Harbor, Poetry Street, and PEN America, Writers Resist: Teach In/Speak Out will bring together several groups from across the East End. Workshops and readings in two separate programs will be dedicated to empowering the community while offering a rare opportunity for residents to join together to celebrate diversity and their common humanity.
"The obvious question prompted by the title would be: ‘resist what?'" said Julie Sheehan, director of the MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton. "Rather than organizing resistance to any one individual or institution, these programs all over the country are aimed at resisting the erosion of the values that make our democracy work: The value of freedom of expression, public education for all, and tolerance in a pluralistic society."
After the presidential election, Sheehan said, people felt afraid and fractured and many wanted to "do something." At times like this, she said, "It's important for people to come together and recognize that this country has been through very hard times—including a civil war—and we can get through anything if we can come together, whatever our differences, to affirm our democracy."
The Teach In, running Sunday, Jan. 15 from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m., will consist of free writer-led workshops in English and Spanish, open to the public, including children.
To get things started, MFA in Creative Writing student Afua Ansong will talk about why it's important for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and all immigrants to speak out. Author Roger Rosenblatt will speak about why writing matters, and the importance of storytelling and bearing witness.
Participants will have the chance to record their experiences and insights about where the country has been and where it is going. These writings can be developed into letters to the editor, persuasive lobbying tools, or personal testimonies used to build networks of support.
A workshop for Spanish speaking writers will be led by Sandra Dunn. Depending on the number of participants, small group workshops for English speakers will be led by Lou Ann Walker, Julie Sheehan, MFA alumna Maggie Bloomfield, and MFA students Zinnia Smith and Anthony DiPietro.
All those who wish to participate are asked to RSVP to Julie Sheehan at (631) 996-4421.
The Speak Out program that follows, beginning Sunday, Jan. 15 at 4 p.m., will include readings from the past and present, writings selected to highlight the ideals of democracy, diversity and free expression. Along with their own original material, writers will be reading from such sources as the preface to Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"; Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" and an original source of the term "welfare," the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.
Afua Ansong, Otilia Aguilar, Megan and Scott Chaskey, Ursula Hegi, Kathryn Levy, MFA alumna Tracy M. King-Sanchez, Roger Rosenblatt, Grace Schulman, Philip Schultz, L.B. Thompson, Adrienne Unger, and MFA alumna Michelle Whitaker will present works that inspire them and offer hope for the future.
The Speak Out event will also include an audience-based Twitter storm based on the Langston Hughes poem, "Let America Be America Again." A short section of the poem will be handed out to all members of the audience with smartphones and Twitter feeds upon their arrival, with instructions to tweet the lines at some point during the program.
A reception will follow, offering a chance to talk, mingle and connect.
Both events are free and the public is welcome to attend one or both. No reservations are needed for the reading. Events will be held in the Duke Lecture Hall at Chancellors Hall, Stony Brook Southampton, 239 Montauk Highway, Southampton, NY 11968.
Writers Resist began the week after the presidential election as a call to writers by PEN America, among others, to resist the growing challenges to freedom of expression. Events are scheduled in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin, Portland, Omaha, Seattle, London, Zurich, Hong Kong, and many other cities.
One of the founders of the movement, poet Erin Belieu, believes these events are a first step in focusing public attention on the ideals of a free, just and compassionate society. "This is only a starting point in raising our voices in defense of democracy," said Belieu.
Call Julie Sheehan at 631-996-4421 or Canio's at 631-725-4926 for more information about Writers Resist: Teach In/Speak Out in Southampton. For more information about Writers Resist nationally, visit www.writersresist.org.