Tuesday, June 28, 2016

ALA 2016 and the Importance of Libraries

I'm home from Orlando and what was the very first stop on the book tour for The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin.  I'm still trying to digest my experience so that I can share it with you.  It will probably come out in bits here and there as I wrap my brain about the whole thing. 

It was a fantastic experience.  The team at Algonquin took care of everything.  Seriously, I couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with.  They care passionately about books and do everything in their power to help their authors.  Some writers can't say that about their publishers.  I feel fortunate that I can. 

Sunday was full of events.  I filled a short piece on why libraries are important to me.  I participated in a debut author panel.  I had a book signing.  And the day wrapped up with another filming where I read Mary Oliver poems in support of the victims of the Orlando shooting.  Those of you who know me, know how much I love Mary Oliver.  Being able to read from her work in support of the shooting victims was a great honor. 

Reading from Mary Oliver in support of the Orlando shooting victims
It's fitting that the conference was held in Orlando, where just a few weeks ago someone tried to silence the voices of an entire community. 

I sometimes teach creative writing at Northern Kentucky University and on the first day of class I always ask my students this question: "What's one of the first things a dictator does when he comes to power?"

Answer:  They destroy libraries.  They burn books. 

Dictators know that in order to hold on to power they must silence any voice that is different than their own. 

One of the most important things a writer must do is to find their voice.  Writing is an intimate thing.  Voice comes from somewhere deep inside, the place most people hide from the world.  Every writer's voice is unique.  Give two writers the same plot, the same setting, and the same characters and each story will still be unique.  That's voice.  It's the one thing we have to share with the world.  And it's powerful. 

Dictators know this.  The Orlando shooter also knew this.  That's why he tried to silence the voices of an entire community. 

And yet in that same city, librarians and writers came together to celebrate the power of the written word.  To celebrate a multitude of voices, and to add new voices to the American cannon.  This is proof that the shooter failed. 

We know that true strength comes, not from silencing others, but from helping them stand and be heard.  Our diversity is our strength. 

E Pluribus Unum is on our currency.  It is Latin for "Out of many, one."  We are Americans.  We are many voices.  Yet we are also one.  We recognize the power of our many voices, and we steadfastly stand against anyone who tries to silence our brothers and sisters. 

The shooter took lives, but he failed to take voices.  We will speak for them. We will not let the dead stay silent.   

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