(Photo by Dan Branch)
When then 49 Writers Executive Director Jeremy Pataky suggested we create a podcast, I volunteered to use my skills as a former public broadcaster and produce and host it on the spot. I wanted to hear what writers were thinking and writing at this pivotal time on multiple fronts.
Two years later and fifteen episodes in, the 49 Writers Active Voice: Writers Respond Podcast serves as a forum for exploration and discussion with writers and artists on their role and responsibility in these times of societal, environmental, and cultural upheaval.
Guests so far include Alaska Writer laureates, a 49 Writers founder, the author of a book introducing young readers to Tlingit civil rights groundbreaker Elizabeth Peratrovich, a world-renowned travel writer, a New Yorker writer, an Austin-based Blues musician and a Whitehorse poet.
2020 has brought tectonic shifts on a global scale, from inequalities magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic to the last straw in a centuries long struggle for justice for black people in this country. What began as a forum on how current events and issues are shaping writers’ work and perspective on democratic values of justice, freedom, equality, and liberty is now reckoning with those values.
In our latest episode, California based writer Kathryn H. Ross discusses her journey confronting racism as a young, black woman after a relatively discrimination-free childhood, and her debut essay and poetry collection, Black Was Not A Label, “a heart song of who I am, what I’ve gone through and my hope for the future.” In this time of struggle with justice and inequality, she draws on the trauma of her heritage and her faith in this moment.
“All my life,” she writes, “I have lived in this brown body. Skin once fresh and new, smelling of newborn fire, has been washed, burned, dirtied, pained, adorned, loved. I speak now in this single body, both living and remembering, trying to reconcile understanding. Every memory has been imprinted into my flesh, bound up with my soul.” Learn more about Kathryn and read more of her writing on her website: www.speakthewritelanguage.com
In other recent episodes, Anchorage Writer’s Block co-owner Vered Mares comments on the importance of elevating the voices of black and brown writers and 49 Writers visiting writer and environmental historian Bathsheba DeMuth shares insights on pandemics past and present.
As we confront this turning point of our lifetimes, we’re reminded that to comprehend the present we must learn from the past, and to heal the present we must reconcile the past. But how do we reconcile the unacceptable? What will we do with our histories? asks former Alaska Writer Laureate Ernestine Hayes. Here’s what she said in a 2018 podcast: “This country was founded on genocide and made wealthy by slavery, so it seems a logical step on a continuum. In addition to proclaiming freedom and justice for all while at the same time denying indigenous rights, denying that the place was already someone’s home and had been occupied for thousands of years, in addition to turning an eye away from slavery I believe that the history also very clearly is based on hypocrisy.”
Listening back to our catalogue, the Active Voice series has touched on many of the issues leading up to the current moment. Some prescient highlights:
Vivian Faith Prescott:
“We are witnessing so many things as writers and performers. We need to write this down, we need to sing it, we need to play it, because we are documenting things that 100 years from now people will pick up a book, they’ll listen to a piece, they’ll watch a play, they’ll look at art on the wall and hopefully it will tell our perspectives, our warnings, our stories.”
“We’re not addressing these issues because they are just so traumatizing and my job as a writer is to tell stories, unfold the folded lie, take the reader on a journey on an adventure in such a way there is some illumination going on, but I am not berating them and yelling: Wake up! My job as a writer is to tell a bigger story and tell a better story.”
“I am a fighter and a survivor and I think the earth is too. Everywhere I look I see ways the earth is trying to correct our mistakes and no more beautifully than right outside my window, after the Westfork Fire, seeing the regeneration of the aspen groves on the hillsides. But the real question I think is how do we act now.”
Please help get the word out by sharing episodes with your friends, family and colleagues and on social media. To be or recommend a guest for the podcast, contact Katie Bausler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-321-2755.