BY: J. Markowitz
Writers Resist: The Anthology 2018 (Running Wild Press) edited by Kit-Bacon Gressitt and Sara Marchant is a compilation of fiction, poetry, and essays originally published on WritersResist.org, an online literary journal established in the aftermath of Trump’s election. The Resistance is a decentralized activist movement against the powers that led to Trump’s election; the Anthology is a response to the question of the role of the writer in that movement. The book is activism in writing; its pages, a space for debate, confronting oppressive paradigms, and expressing solidarity.
The Anthology aims to reflect the inclusive, intersectional feminism of the Resistance, finding strength in the diversity of voices represented in the book. The book takes critical theory and makes it personal, with contributors sharing their firsthand experiences during the Trump years: a son does not want light-up shoes because a school shooter will be able to see him in the dark; a person living with a pre-existing condition expresses fear during the American Healthcare Act repeal debate; a queer party liberates an “Aging Bisexual,” a “Military Gentleman,” a “Lesbian Artist,” a “Fabulous Host,” and a “Straight Girl,” if only for a night. Their stories make the impact of the interlocking systems of oppression in present-day America undeniable.
The book is particularly effective when the writers are at their most vulnerable, as this vulnerability offers opportunities for nuance and insight. In “For the Duration: Ten Strategies” by Judy Viertel depicts a multiracial couple as they try to reconcile their conflicting reactions to the extreme political situation. Lisa, a white woman, “doesn’t want to hear about the news. It’s making her sick”; while Henry, “as the son of Chinese immigrants, feels a responsibility to stay informed about civil rights.” The piece is about love as work, as a commitment to acceptance and to learning how to meet each partner’s differing needs. In an endearing moment, they make lists of things they are grateful for: “Lisa looks at his list and adds ‘trips’ to hers. / Henry looks at hers and adds ‘strawberries.’ / In a few months, they promise each other, it will be spring.” The work ends: “they explore each other’s bodies as if this were sufficient … as if they didn’t know that in the morning, in the brightly blinding morning, the newspaper would be out there, lying in wait.”
Intimacy is also a key thread throughout the Anthology. The intense connections reveal the range of emotions, from grief to anger and anger to love, experienced since Trump’s election. David Martinez depicts in the piece “I Still Am,” a teacher and his thirteen-year-old former student, whom the teacher learns has just spent time in juvenile detention. The teacher vacillates between compassion and futility. To what extent should he be there for this boy who “wants to believe he has no faith in anything, because to think otherwise would crush him?” To what extent he can even make a difference:
I don’t think to give him my number, don’t point to my apartment and say something like, Anytime you need, don’t hesitate to come by…I have to leave to pick up my wife, and on the way home we drive toward the setting sun that catches fire in the desert—the great and terrible monster of the West—and it’s fine. We give ourselves to it, and all we can do is watch.
These are relatable emotions, as many of us try to squelch our own doubts on what it means to “show up” in support of each other. Does being informed matter if you don’t vote? Is voting “enough” when others are disenfranchised? What are we willing to give up for freedom and justice for all?
While overall the contributions are strong, the book struggles in the poem “Letter from Guantanamo,” which does not exhibit the same depth of introspection as many of the other works. The speaker in “Letter from Guantanamo” is a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, but the generalities in this poem—a salty sea, “sweet dates and dream[s] of doing something important,” and the sun as a “holy eye”—veer toward caricature and ultimately fail in creating a multi-dimensional representation of Guantanamo victims. Another poem, “Asphalt,” similarly feels detached. The poem depicts the murder by police of a young, black or brown boy, his blood—described as “the color of mine,” presumably to emphasize the narrator and the boy were otherwise different—pooling alongside his candy bar. The poem is so short as to feel glib. We know almost nothing about the boy in “Asphalt.” Instead he is treated as an object by the poem in much the same way as he is by the cop. The poem exploits the suffering of communities of color by relying on our ability to visualize police brutality, rather than the writer doing the work of bringing humanizing specificity to the poem.
Depictions of violence such as the police lynching described in “Asphalt,” have the potential to re-traumatize victims. The Anthology, like much of literature and art today, thus faces the challenge of reflecting our violent reality without perpetuating the violence. The story “Nightmare on Elm Street” by Cassandra Lane Rich makes an important contribution to this discourse. It is a chilling rendering of re-traumatization, as the narrator, a black woman living in California, tells of her nightmare in which an armed Dylan Roof chases her and her son in her childhood home in Louisiana:
Like a bloodhound, he finds my Southern black body hiding out in the desert . . . Roof continues to point his rifle . . . He could easily shoot out the glass and work his way in. Instead, his strategy is to drag out the terror with painstaking patience and steadiness—tinkering with the door handle, making threats, stopping completely, and then starting again.
There are many striking works in the Anthology like “Nightmare on Elm Street” that will stay with you. From the comical telling of a witch whose home becomes a de facto abortion clinic to Maia Antoinette’s “resistin’,” which reminds us that the struggle for liberation is not new, was not invented by the Resistance. The speaker says, “nights moved into risks. since the dawn of white men in the Holocaust of Slavery.”
To read the 2018 Writers Resist Anthology and hear so many voices cry out in fear, love, pain, guilt, anger, pride, and rebellion is to relive the past two years. That the attacks against our rights have been so broad and relentless means that anthologies such as this one, which reflect on the breadth of these attacks, are an exercise in re-sensitizing ourselves to pain. But in the pages also is an intimacy that reinvigorates the collective struggle for a radical freedom.
J. Markowitz writes fiction and nonfiction and is a contributor to The Coachella Review. Being queer and living in NYC has been formative to their development as a writer. They often feel like an outsider seeing the world in strange ways and are humbled every day to observe fellow New Yorkers deal with their own experiences of otherness. They earned a Master in Public Policy from the University of Maryland, College Park, and are now pursuing a Master in Fine Art, Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside. Follow them on Instagram @june_moon.