Land of Opportunity, Responsibility
I was raised in a family that didn’t discuss politics at the dinner table—or at any table, for that matter. Surely my parents voted, but I distinctly recall being told that it was improper to ask whom they backed in 1980: Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter. Not that I had a pony in that particular race. I was seven; to me it was between the guy who liked peanuts and the one who preferred jelly beans. By contrast, last month my eleven-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son wondered aloud what it would be like if Barack Obama came to work at Poets & Writers Magazine once his second term was over. I guess I’ve been more vocal than I realized in my pride that the forty-fourth president of the United States is a writer.
In an attempt to make sense of even an ounce of what is happening in this country, and to quell an escalating anxiety, I have sought a range of perspectives beyond those amplified by mainstream media and clogging the social networks. In these pages the voices of the fifty poets and writers who contributed to “Dear President” (page 48) join those of so many others—Teju Cole, Jacqueline Woodson, Naomi Jackson, Tracy Sherrod, and on and on—to form an inspired chorus, a powerful and empowering reminder of what is important to us as writers, as human beings.
I recently wrote to Stephen Morison Jr., a contributing editor whose reports from Afghanistan, Vietnam, North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere have expanded the world reflected in these pages in ways that can’t be overstated. I asked Morison, an American expat living in Rome, after four years in Jordan, how this election is seen beyond our shores. He replied that in Italy the Republican nominee is widely derided for his jingoistic, anti-immigration stance. “This sharply contrasts with the Italian image of America as a place of opportunity,” he wrote. “The desperate voyage to America and the eventual return is a popular fictional narrative in Italy because it was a popular nonfictional experience of its people.” He added: “Although most Italians and non-Americans would probably be loath to admit it, the United States still is something of a dream to them, still the land of opportunity, still the place that, as Nick Carraway says in The Great Gatsby, is “commensurate to [humanity’s] capacity for wonder.” So, what are we writers to do? There are as many answers as there are writers, but the first one has to be this: Vote. And here’s another, from Jacqueline Woodson (62), who told Rigoberto González: “I have a responsibility to write what I believe in.”