Authors Take Action 2021
Last year my author colleague and friend Padma Venkatraman organized the first “Authors Take Action” day with a focus on public health measures during the pandemic. She encouraged us to post selfies with masks and messages to physically distance to avoid catching and spreading covid-19. I’m camera shy, so I posted a scene from Little Brick Township with masked Lego minifigures keeping six studs of separation.
Authors Take Action continues this year with a focus on stopping hate crimes, from violence against Asian Americans stemming from a former leader’s covid-19 scapegoating to police shootings of unarmed Black people. Since April is National Poetry Month, we are amplifying the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) poets with social media posts on April 20. The initiative beginning that day is hashtagged #DiverseVerse, joining the #AuthorsTakeAction hashtag. If you’d like to join this initiative, here’s a press release with more information:
If you feel able to help harness the power of poetry, amplify BIPOC poets’ words and work, and spread a message to raise awareness against racist hate crimes and begin deep discussions and collate ideas for practical action to combat hate, we hope you will read on and join us on 4/20/21, to launch the #DiverseVerse initiative with a hashtag campaign, together with Authors Take Action.
#AuthorsTakeAction and #DiverseVerse plan to work cooperatively on Tuesday 20th April to harness the power of poetry to speak out against racist hate crimes in general; and against hate crimes against BIPOC people in particular. If you wish to narrow the focus of your message to Anti-Asian Hate Crimes, you may do so; or you may prefer to create a more general message against racist hate crimes. We request those who take part to share a nuanced, personal message about speaking up and standing up against hate crimes using poetry as a tool to start conversations, and amplifying the work of BIPOC poets in a manner that is respectful. Our suggestion is that you would create a thoughtful post and share it using these two hashtags #DiverseVerse and #AuthorsTakeAction (and you may also want to add additional hashtags as appropriate) on social media. We will be looking for these hashtags to respond to your post and boost your signal.
Here are some suggestions of what you might consider posting:
(1) Amplify a BIPOC poet’s words – by doing a short video or audio recording reciting a quote from a poem and saying why it moves you and also citing resources or action steps that BIPOC leaders have suggested. For ideas, visit the Diverse Verse blog post, website or padlet.
(2) Create a visual aid of your own (a poster containing a quote from a poem by a BIPOC poet, artwork inspired by a poem written by a BIPOC poet, or your own poem inspired by a quote from a BIPOC poet or author) and share this visual along with a heartfelt written message of your own.
For more ideas, please visit the blog post entitled “Teaching Ideas: Using Poetry to Start Conversations and Take Action Against Hate” or this diverse verse padlet . Both contain resources and ideas on ways to amplify words and work by BIPOC poets, keeping in mind fair use and respecting copyright and diversity, while sending powerful and personal messages against hate.
On 4/20/21, we hope to do our best to encourage young writers if you share any classroom work (while respecting student privacy and safety). Feel free to also share other teaching suggestions you came up with that involve starting deep questions about hate, action steps to counter it, and the power of poetry in the context of awareness and protest; and to spread the word about this new resource and the diverse verse initiative.
We hope that this exercise will bring the community together, using poetry by BIPOC voices as a starting point to engage in introspection, as well as to engage in deep discussions with others on the subject of hate crimes. We also hope this might serve as a starting point for individuals, school groups, and communities to seek out for themselves and to provide with others educational resources as well as practical exercises and action points that will continue to promote a deeper respect and understanding of diversity in our nation and in our world.
Why poetry? The past year has, for us, been one in which we’ve witnessed so much hate; and yet also one that challenged us to keep hoping. Sometimes everything we do feels futile and yet, whoever we are, wherever we live, we can harness the power of poetry to speak up, stand up and start to take action against hate. Poetry also provides, especially for young people, the potential to preserve hope in the face of tragedy and the terrible hate crimes we’ve all been witnessing this past year and for so many years. Poems pack a punch – they can awake us, they can inspire us to take action, they can energize us to protest. Poems tap into the power of peace through the strength of words.
I have a verse novel coming out next year, MOONWALKING, that I have written with Black poet Zetta Elliott. Zetta recently published a collection of poetry titled American Phoenix. Arriving on the heels of the acclaimed Say Her Name, American Phoenix also explores themes of resilience and resistance, this time from her perspective as an immigrant to the United States from Canada. These are powerful poems that look at the country from the perspective of an outsider in so many ways, but an outsider who has chosen to make the United States her home. And what is “home” anyway? As she writes in “Exodus,” one of the many jewels in this collection:
we are bound by
the air we breathe
yet die alone in
our own private
I plan to feature Zetta’s work on April 20, and I hope you will take part — individually and with your classes if you’re a teacher. As you read the other contributions, may you find new poets to read and cherish as well!