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A conversation with President David Skorton and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz MFA '95 - CornellCast
"Each year, the Olin Lecture brings to campus an internationally prominent speaker to address a topic relevant to higher education and the current world situation. Junot Díaz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)."

[Great chat with Junot Díaz (is there any other kind?) and I especially love the part towards the end in response to a prompt from the audience about social action.

“There is no more important mandate to anyone living in a society than civic engagement. Civic engagement is just what's owed. There is no person, poor or rich, who does not take more out of this country than what they put back in. No one. There is no one so afflicted that doesn't owe this nation a debt. Civic engagement is how we begin to pay the interest on that debt. And, part of civic engagement is looking for places that we think that we can improve and trying to improve it. It is just something that has been lost for a long time, something that I think isn't valued enough. I think that what you are doing is incredibly important under the most fundamental level of what it means to be alive in a civic society. To give back, to attempt to engage yourself in that way is absolutely essential.

The thing is that we live in a society that has spent the last thirty or forty years promulgating, convincing people that the only thing that matters is you and how much money you have made. A perverse neoliberal individualism that has collapsed a lot of what we would call our civic communities. People aren't just bowling alone, gang. People are also not engaged in civic society the way they used to. They've got us all mad at each other, whether we're Republican or Democrats because that is a way to convince people that this is civic engagement. Partisan politics is not civic engagement. We think it's civic engagement, but it's not. And I think the nature of civic engagement is that in a country like ours, in a moment like ours, it is going to be very hard to convince people to go against the pied piper music of individualism and neoliberal profit-making and to think more seriously about what our community requires and what is owed of all of us. And I think that the nature of this work, is that you are going to find that it is going to be difficult to engage large movements of people. And that despite this, what you do is utterly invaluable.

My sense of this is that you've got to constantly model, you've got to constantly reach out, and you've got to everything you cant that when you're home, or wherever you settle, to go to every damn school and get every teacher who is an ally and let you make a presentation. And try to get allied teachers to come and visit your project so that at least the young people are exposed and given some modeling. And it is the same thing. How many people are at home looking for things to do? And, again, I don't know what community you are in or what kind of space, but if you can sort of figure out a place where there is a lot of traffic that you could present and model your work, you can begin to slowly pull people in. Will it be a lot? No. Will it be as much as you need? Perhaps. Will it be transformational and save individual lives through that engagement and through that reaffirmation of the most important values of our civic society? Absolutely. Being an artist in some ways is no different than being someone who wants to make this country better. there is very little money in it, especially if done correctly.

You know, there is little acclaim and respect. And in fact, there is very few signs that what you're doing is working. And yet, without your presence, what remains is not worth calling a society. Nothing is more a faith-based initiative than the kind of work you're doing. But I would argue, trying to get into the schools, trying to get into the places where a lot of adults flow through who don't have that kind of training or don't have that kind of literacy, and tying to kind of increase the exposure, that is what tends to work best in this battle. And I leave you with this: whether you're someone who is trying to do the work this young sister is doing or you're a teacher trying to convince their students that reading is good, in this battle, it is hand to hand. If you can transform one life, you've given more than most of us can dream. And, that life may do the work the future needs to make the future that we all dreamed possible. And therefore you must stick with it.”

See 1:02:29 for that.]
junotdíaz  art  activism  writing  race  2015  via:javierarbona  howwewrite  whywewrite  experience  socialjustice  us  education  highered  highereducation  inclusion  inclusivity  diversity  immigrants  immigration  elitism  politics  struggle  mfas  hardship  gratitude  civics  citizenship  engagement  migration  bilingualism  language  accents  rutgers  cornell  stigma  latinos  patriarchy  capitalism  publicadministration  socialaction  society  movements  storytelling  neoliberalism  individualism  money  wealth  inequality  transformation  modeling  lcproject  openstudioproject  inlcusivity 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Paris Review - The Art of Poetry No. 91, Jack Gilbert
"He failed out of high school and worked as an exterminator and door-to-door salesman before being admitted, thanks to a clerical error, to the University of Pittsburgh. There he met the poet Gerald Stern, his exact contemporary. Gilbert started writing poetry, he says, because Stern did."



'INTERVIEWER: Do you think it’s important for American writers to live abroad?

GILBERT: At least at some point—so you have something to compare to what you think is normal, and you encounter things you aren’t used to. One of the great dangers is familiarity."



"INTERVIEWER: Did being removed from the literary community benefit you?

GILBERT: Sure.

INTERVIEWER: What did you like most about it?

GILBERT: Paying attention to being alive. This is hard—when I try to explain, it sounds false. But I don’t know any other way to say it. I’m so grateful. There’s nothing I’ve wanted that I haven’t had. Michiko dying, I regret terribly, and losing Linda’s love, I regret equally. And not doing some of the things I wanted to do. But I still feel grateful. It’s almost unfair to have been as happy as I’ve been. I didn’t earn it; I had a lot of luck. But I was also very, very stubborn. I was determined to get what I wanted as a life.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that your idea of happiness differs from most people’s idea of happiness?

GILBERT: Sure. I’m vain enough to think that I’ve made a successful life. I’ve had everything I’ve ever wanted. You can’t beat that."



"INTERVIEWER: Did school influence you as a young writer?

GILBERT: No, I failed high school; I got into college by mistake. I failed freshman English eight times. I was interested in learning, but I wanted to understand too, which meant I was fighting with the teachers all the time. Everybody accepted the fact that I was smart but I wouldn’t obey. I didn’t believe what they said unless they could prove it.

INTERVIEWER: Was your defiance—your resistance—ultimately an advantage?

GILBERT: Yes and no. It takes much longer if you have to find it all and do it all for yourself. My mind was not available for the impress of teachers or other people’s styles. The other arts were important to me. At one time I was working in photography with Ansel Adams. He offered to help me with my photographs if I would help him write his books, which was fine until we ran short of money and the woman I was with finally said she was tired of cooking pancakes.

INTERVIEWER: How did you get involved with Ansel Adams?

GILBERT: I was teaching a class and some of his students got to know me. I wish I’d been able to continue working with him, but it was either him or the woman. I chose the woman. After that I went to Italy and everything went into my falling in love for the first time. I did some painting there and won a fourth prize. I wish I had continued with painting and photography—novels too. But I was excited.

INTERVIEWER: What was Ansel Adams like?

GILBERT: Very German.

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever looked to other writers for inspiration?

GILBERT: I liked many writers but never found a teacher."



"INTERVIEWER: Do you think this has anything to do with the fact that so many poets come out of M.F.A. programs and go right on to teach?

GILBERT: If I answer that I’ll get into a rant, but I’ll tell you—I think poetry was killed by money. When I started out, no poet in America could make a living in poetry except Ogden Nash. And he did it with light verse."



INTERVIEWER: You taught in universities very rarely, only when you had to—just enough so that you could travel and write. Do you think writing poetry can be taught?

GILBERT: I can teach people how to write poetry, but I can’t teach people how to have poetry, which is more than just technique. You have to feel it—to experience it, whether in a daze or brightly. Often you don’t know what you have. I once worked on a poem for twelve years before I found it."



"INTERVIEWER: What, other than yourself, is the subject of your poems?

GILBERT: Those I love. Being. Living my life without being diverted into things that people so often get diverted into. Being alive is so extraordinary I don’t know why people limit it to riches, pride, security—all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the house. And they have to get a car. You can’t see anything from a car. It’s moving too fast. People take vacations. That’s their reward—the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives—until it’s too late. Though I understand that often you don’t have a choice."



"INTERVIEWER: It sounds like even in your San Francisco days you sustained a rather remote life away from others. Is solitude important for you?

GILBERT: I don’t know how to answer that because I’ve always lived a life with a lot of quiet in it—either alone or with someone I’m in love with."



"INTERVIEWER: Is being childless good for a poet?

GILBERT: I could never have lived my life the way I have if I had children. There used to be a saying that every baby is a failed novel. I couldn’t have roamed or taken so many chances or lived a life of deprivation. I couldn’t have wasted great chunks of my life. But that would be a mistake for other people. Fine people. Smart people."



"INTERVIEWER: Do you keep to a work schedule?

GILBERT: No, I have an approximate rhythm, but I don’t like the idea of anything creative being mechanical. That’ll kill you. On the other hand, if I was not satisfied with how much I’d written in a year, then I would set out to write a hundred poems in a hundred days. I force myself to write poems even though I don’t approve of it because it does keep something alive. So I guess I have a little bit of a pattern that I live by. For instance, the other day I woke up at one in the morning and worked until four in the afternoon. I do that a lot. I can do that because I don’t have to accommodate anybody but me.

INTERVIEWER: So discipline is important to you?

GILBERT: Yes, because I’m lazy. If you have it in you, you want to create, but I won’t force myself—because it’s dangerous. People who are organized are in danger of making a process out of it and doing it by the numbers."



"INTERVIEWER: What’s your relationship with the contemporary literary community now?

GILBERT: I don’t have one.

INTERVIEWER: Does that bother you?

GILBERT: No. Why? Why would it bother me? Those people are in business. They’re hardworking.

INTERVIEWER: Don’t you work hard?

GILBERT: Not in the same meaning of the word hard. I put in a lot of effort because it matters to me. Many of these people who teach would do anything not to teach. I don’t have any obligations. I don’t have a mortgage. These people are working hard at a great price.

INTERVIEWER: I’m struck by how rarely I see your poems in anthologies and how 
often I see the same poems by other poets over and over again. Do you think there’s a disadvantage to spending most of your life abroad or outside of literary circles?

GILBERT: It’s fatal, which is all right with me.

INTERVIEWER: Do you ever feel any professional antagonism toward other writers?

GILBERT: Them toward me or me toward them?

INTERVIEWER: You toward them.

GILBERT: No.

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel it from them toward you?

GILBERT: Sure. I contradict a lot of what they’re doing. I don’t go to the meetings and dinners. I don’t hang out."



"INTERVIEWER: Have you ever followed a particular religion?

GILBERT: Presbyterianism. Till I was about seven, I guess. My mother never went to church, but she was a believer. She loved God and believed God would be good to her. She sang when she cleaned the house on Sunday mornings.

INTERVIEWER: Do you consider yourself religious now?

GILBERT: I’d like to be. I think I’m very religious by temperament. I think it would be a great comfort to believe. But you don’t have a choice. Either you believe or you don’t. It’s not a practical matter. Religion is a beautiful idea, but I don’t have a choice.

INTERVIEWER: Where does your preoccupation with mythology and the gods come from?

GILBERT: Careless reading. I never read mythology or any fiction as if I were in a class. Myths give shape to what I feel about the world and my instinct about what I’m looking at. They inform what I think about the past."



"INTERVIEWER: Have you ever thought of writing your memoirs?

GILBERT: Yes. Every once in a while someone asks to do it for me. Sometimes I’m interested because I’ve forgotten so much of the past and I like the idea of walking through my life. What’s more, it’s a profound experience to be with people from my past again. To be with my memories. Things that I thought I’d forgotten all of a sudden become visible, become present.

INTERVIEWER: Like a film?

GILBERT: Different than that. It’s more like a feeling rising from the tops of my knees. Then I start remembering. It’s complicated; a child seldom remembers anything before he’s four years old. I just wonder how much I know, how much I’ve been through, that I no longer remember."



"INTERVIEWER: Does the United States—Northampton—feel like home to you now?

GILBERT: No, I don’t have a home. Not anymore. When Linda’s not teaching anymore we’ll probably leave this lovely Massachusetts world for another fine world. To be happy. Very happy."
jackgilbert  jackspicer  allenginsberg  anseladams  poems  poetry  writing  howwewrite  teaching  learning  dropouts  education  life  living  happiness  loneliness  solitude  quiet  love  children  parenting  community  purpose  experience  travel  livingabroad  expatriates  business  mfa  mfas  obligations  work  labor  howwework  relationships  inspiration  geraldstern  familiarity  difference  routine  process  success  photography  ogdennash  aging  death  organization  laziness  schedules  interviews  parisreview  nomads  nomadism  belonging  place  memory  memories  forgetting  religion  belief  myths  reading  howweread  mythology  sarahfay  idleness 
may 2013 by robertogreco

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