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“What is Literary Activism?”

by Amy King

literary activism

This past summer, I was asked to talk about my literary activism as part of an acceptance speech for an award I was receiving. This request threw my current actions into sharp relief. Was I doing “literary activism”? How to define if this is a thing and not simply a medium used on behalf of another movement (I.e. a poem as vehicle a movement can utilize)? Or is literary activism stepping back and looking at how the cogs and wheels of the literary world go together or grind and crunch in order to respond critically?

First a little background: I’ve been engaged in various forms of activism since I left home at 17. These include marches, counter marches, clinic defenses, and on the ground actions (some illegal), with various groups like Act Up to feminist and GLBTQI groups, etc. I was also briefly part of the zine and Riot Grrl scene in Baltimore and D.C. back in the day.

Between my participation in such groups and my Women’s Studies, and, later, American Studies classes, along with the campus Feminist Collective, these engagements and activities helped to foment much of my early understanding of what it means to be an activist. I bring some of those ideas into my own poems now and, even more so, into the classroom—and consider this transition, especially as an educator, a natural extension of my activism. In conjunction with those groups, the writers and educators I also learned from set examples, broadened the scope of possibility and legitimized the attention I felt ever more committed to devote.

Beyond that period of intense and dynamic growth, I was writing a blog and heavily critiquing “Best of” lists about seven years ago when I pretty seamlessly fell into working with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts at its inception. My recognition of literature’s value and primacy and how it shaped me had become an almost unconscious imperative as I contributed to looking at gender in the literary publishing world. I began to participate on panels and give talks, and these invitations inspired further research into the historical facets of women in the publishing world.

As I’ve continued on as an educator and graduated to becoming a member of VIDA’s Executive Committee, I began to recognize a need for greater consciousness to shine a light on the gaps where certain voices were either outright rejected or passively ignored. This includes even looking where women’s voices are featured since there is no universal woman.

Read the full post on Harriet, The Poetry Foundation’s blog for poetry and related news

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