Resistance in ink: New Orleans literary community joins global movement

Writers like Oscar Wilde, Langston Hughes and Audre Lorde used their voices to support compassion, free speech, multiculturalism and rebellion. The New Orleans chapter of Writers Resist hopes to keep that tradition alive.

Appropriately coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 15, the New Orleans literary community gathered at The Art Garage for a marathon reading in solidarity with fellow writers championing the same ideals in more than 40 cities across the globe. Presenters included students, professors and local authors reading works they felt echoed these values.

Local organizers said they wanted the event to create a judgment-free space where participants could react to the election and its aftermath. The Writers Resist movement is not affiliated with any particular political party.

“That might mean drawing some kind of hope or solace from the works of other writers being read,” Tulane professor and local organizer Adrian Van Young said. “But it might also mean simply abiding in the anxiety, fear and sadness that so many are experiencing, but together, as a community, as opposed to alone.”

Poet Erin Belieu founded the international Writers Resist movement. Belieu said she was motivated by her concern regarding public cynicism.

“Whether you live in a red or blue state or another country that cares deeply about the American experiment, there is no more important battle than our right to truth,” Belieu said.  

Presenters at The Art Garage read works from other authors that they felt reflected the event’s messages.

“In New Orleans, those ideals go hand in hand with the legacy that makes our city unique and a cultural capital of the world: a distinctive history of activism, struggle, and endurance, and a culture that celebrates the arts, public ritual, shared celebration, and joie de vivre,” the press release said.

Local organizers wanted to assert the cultural richness of New Orleans. By bringing community members together to feel the raw impact of the pieces read, organizers and participants alike shared in the conception of a new form of literary resistance.

“Bastions of culture and compassion, like New Orleans, are going to be the nerve centers of resistance,” Van Young said. “So here we are, saying our part.”

Loyola University New Orleans student Jo Gehringer read an excerpt from “What I Pledge Allegiance To” by Kiese Laymon, alongside Lusher Chater School student Alexandra Gulden and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts students Gloria Jordan and Lexie Rousse.

“It’s just such a nice space,” Gehringer said. “I had never been here before, and it’s so open. People of all ages getting a whole bunch of different literature that I wouldn’t hear normally.”

Not all presenters felt as positively as Gehringer. Local author Kristina Kay Robinson said she felt The Art Garage was a strange location due to affluent groups assuming control of poorer neighborhoods, speaking to the issue of hyper-gentrification.

‘There are no black people in any type of position of authority or control over the event, and I just think that’s ironic and strange given the occasion and the day it’s being held,” Robinson said. 

Robinson addressed the crowd before reading her chosen piece, alluding to her concerns and encouraging a dialogue about the potential for improvement. 

To continue spreading the event’s messages and further explore the connection between the literary world and democracy, Van Young suggests hosting events at the college level and promoting active engagement between writers from all walks of life.

“Keep asserting what you find troubling about what’s happening right now in America over and against any objection,” Van Young said. “Especially when you see it on this very insidious, day-to-day level, whereby it becomes normalized.”

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