by George Lubitz
In English teacher Erin Gruwell’s The Freedom Writers Diary (recently made into a film starring Hillary Swank), she sets out on a mission to teach 150 high school students the power that comes from reading and writing—and what that power can grant the individual reader or writer. The students immediately write the notion off (so to speak) and point to their everyday struggles with gang violence and poverty, rejecting this idea that books might be able to save them.
But lo and behold, they slowly but surely realize the effect books like Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl have—not only on everyday readers, but especially themselves. They begin looking to widely popular novels and memoirs and draw comparisons to their own lives. They realize that they aren’t alone in this world and that some of the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis have been faced (and overcome) by heroes and heroines before them.
In any case, we all know how true Gruwell’s beliefs are, and it is only appropriate that this month we shine a light on a few Bloomers who exemplify the importance of making a difference through the written word.
Georgia Representative John Lewis has a long, exhaustive career as a civil rights leader, both on the ground and in Congress. Since 2013 the congressman has been publishing fantastic graphic novels as part of his series March. The books follow the events of the Civil Rights Movement through the perspective of Mr. Lewis himself as a young activist. The trilogy was finished with the publication of the third installment this past August and recently won The National Book Award in Young People’s Literature. You can watch his tearful acceptance speech here. Each page is as exciting as it is powerful, and for that reason we applaud the newest member of the bloomer-verse (who is also our very first bloomer-politician) and sincerely hope he keeps up the good work signing novels alongside bills.
We looked back this month to a conversation we had with Gene Oishi a few Decembers ago. In it, the memoirist/novelist discusses his experiences in a Japanese internment camp during WWII and the books those experiences inspired him to write. In light of recent political events, Oishi’s novel and memoir serve as tough (but well needed) reminders of what’s happened in the past, and the painful prospect of how the near future might unfold. But works like Oishi’s exemplify The Freedom Writers’ lessons, in that In Search of Hiroshi and Fox Drum Bebop can act both as instruction manuals—of how to not let history repeat itself—and as staunch calls to action in the face of adversity.
Mary Roach recently published a new book in June, and it has been catching a second wave of popularity in the past month. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War looks at the toll war takes on the human body. Roach uses the perfect combination of reportage and wit to detail everything that goes into outfitting, protecting, and repairing those who serve in our armed forces. This sometimes-snarky view of the science behind what it takes (both mentally and, as far as weapons and gear are concerned, materially) to be a soldier on the battlefield is a sobering and insightful look into what brave men and women have to face in battle. We all too often get stories of triumph, those recounts of unmatched valor and victory. And while these stories have their place, Mary Roach’s scientific angle on the inner-workings of war is a fresh take, which presents to the reader just how calculated and complicated every aspect of a soldier’s life can be and challenges what you thought you once knew about war.
Though a petition or open letter might very well be the simplest and most direct way of using words to affect social change (perhaps a little less poetically than Ms. Gruwell had imagined), a letter signed by thirty-one well-known authors is quite a different story. The writers (Bloomer Nicholson Baker included!) penned a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to pardon Edward Snowden for his involvement with secret NSA materials. The unorthodox approach was published in the form of an advertisement in The New York Times recently, and it certainly has created quite the buzz.
In other news, the late great P.D. James’ TThe Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories was published at the very end of last month. Four detective stories which take place during the holiday season make for an excellent gift for any James/detective story/holiday fan alike! (Check out Jill Kronstadt’s 2014 feature on James here.)
While we don’t usually report on galas at the Guggenheim, it’s worth mentioning that the Guggenheim International Gala this month was filled with art from exclusively women artists, including a (second) celebratory exhibit of the late artist Agnes Martin. Because who doesn’t want to celebrate bloomers? For a look-back at Martin, read Sonya Chung’s piece at The Millions.
In other, non-arts news, we’ve also got the best feel-good story of the month! According to Sports Illustrated, 55-year old Joe Thomas, Sr. took the football field a few Sundays back to play for the South Carolina State Bulldogs, and even carried the ball a few yards! He’d wanted to play professional football his whole life and finally got the chance, making Mr. Thomas the first ever bloomer-footballer to make Bloomers At Large! You can watch a video and catch the full story here.
Be sure to take a good look at these new books and stories. There’s certainly enough material to keep you well entertained until next month. But there’s also plenty of time to look at some of these titles and maybe meditate a little bit longer on the themes therein than you usually would. The power of a book is unmatched by any other form, and the enjoyment of a good, meaningful story is equally unmatched. But we all know the most enjoyable, inspirational stories are often Bloomer-written!
George Lubitz is a senior at Skidmore College. His work has been featured in Gravel Magazine, The Adroit Journal, and he is the Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief at The Skidmo’ Daily, Skidmore’s satirical magazine.