DIY: How to Change the World through Writing
All writing is activism. Whether or not one sets out to speak one’s mind about the war in Iraq or an elderly neighbor downstairs, writers, by their very nature, have strong voices. For those looking to channel that voice to change the world, there are options. Here are just a few ways writers can make an impact on their world, whether through words alone, or by the kind of work that expands the discourse to include more writers.
1. Write Out. There are so many ways to raise awareness about an issue you care about, whether attending a rally or signing a petition. Yet writing, whether on a public forum like an op-ed page or on something as simple as a friend’s blog, can influence opinion and change people’s minds.
William Moseley, a professor at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota is an impassioned advocate for sustainable development in Africa. First, as a member of the Peace Corps, and then later as an employee of Oxfam, Moseley worked to improve conditions in the third world. As an academic, he still speaks out on behalf of people overseas. He recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post about the drought in the Horn of Africa.
He encourages his students not to separate their academic and activist work. He says: “I don’t like that division. What you really want are thoughtful activists.” After all, informed students make better activists, and better facts make better arguments.
2. Start a Magazine. One of my favorite writer success stories from the field is APIARY. Founded last year by a group of recent college grads, this lit mag is already garnering attention and authors from across its home base of Philadelphia and beyond. Dedicated to finding and encouraging young talent, founder Lillian Dunn says that “I love talking to new people and discovering new writers.” In Dunn’s words, “Philadelphia is a fabulous place for writing right now.”
Literary magazines not only serve as a platform for young writers, but an inspiration for many more seeking an outlet for their work. In Dunn’s words, “What we really want is to create an access point.” And these access points are so easy to create. If you can sign up for a blog, you can found a magazine. The contributors could just be your friends or the entire world, but no matter, it will make a difference.
3. Mentor. No writer learns in a vacuum. There are too many students who have never had good teachers and have never been told they can write. Or in the words of Los Angeles writer and teacher Mike Sonksen, also known as Mike the Poet, “It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do.” After graduation from UCLA, he devoted himself to writing and teaching others to write. Through workshops at local schools as well as one-on-one mentoring, he has encouraged a generation of Angelino students to become poets, better students, and writers.
Sonksen also mentors at 826LA, a non-profit that provides free tutoring for writers both young and old, co-created by author Dave Eggers. Whether or not you seek out one of the 826 National locations or similar organizations across the country, there’s always volunteering opportunities to mentor that young poet in training. As Sonksen writes, “Any young writer that hopes to support their community can do it. It just takes getting out there.”
Volunteer at 826Boston, 826LA, 826Chi, 826DC, 826Michigan, 826NYC, 826Seattle or 826Valencia.
Read Mike the Poet’s blog.
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Elsewhere in inReads: Dan Savage’s It Will Get Better campaign demonstrates the power of words to change the world.