In my scroll through birthdays this week I landed on bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver, an author who participated in a different kind of book exhibit which I covered in 2014 at Christie’s Auction House.
At 20 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, I took my notebook out not to gaze at diamonds or rare art but (nerd alert…) to look inside glass-tinted cases at books for a partnership between PEN American Center, one of the oldest human rights organization in the U.S. and Christie’s with the support of countless writers and artists who all played a part in the fundraising event that raised a million dollars for freedom of expression.
It was as large as a concert hall inside the famous auction house–310,000 square feet of bright lights and plush carpeted floors when I walked into the exhibit room of First Editions/ Second Thoughts displaying books.
First Editions/ Second Thoughts asked famous writers to annotate their older published material with their second thoughts on now-famous works many many years later. This New York Times interview features Paul Auster, Jane Smiley and Robert Caro’s thoughts on participating in the event.
But back to Barbara Kingsolver, who in her reflections, led the reader back to her first sentence in The Poisonwood Bible, the bestselling novel that depicted missionary-fueled imperialism and its troubled legacy in the Congo. Kingsolver had a compelling annotation on her first page after the first sentence of her book.
“Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.”
Kingsolver writes: “The first sentence of a novel should make a promise that the book will keep. The ruin that Europe and the US brought on the Congo. The difficulty of inheriting this history — as captive witness to our nation’s past. The impossible search for redemption. The temptation of denial.”
I think it’s important to note that Kingsolver used funds she made from The Poisonwood Bible to establish the PEN/ Bellwether Prize, an award given to support socially-engaged fiction. “Established by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000 and funded entirely by her, it is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles.”
I landed on Kingsolver’s sentence that began with the word “imagine” because it linked with a part of the article I wrote–and so many other famous socially-engaged writers involved in First Editions/ Second Thoughts–Angela Davis, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison to name but a few.
As I reflected on my 2014 piece for Wild River Review, I gravitated to the role of writing and writers: Imagining a transformed world — or more critically, examining the “real” world — is perhaps the most important role of the writer, the group PEN International Center worked to protect since it was founded by Catharine Amy Dawson-Scott and John Galsworthy in 1921.
So, my question of the week: How can we reimagine and transform the world through our writing?