One of the nice aspects of the Red Room "Night of 100 Authors" affair at Tosca's last Friday was the diversity of the people who attended. Some authors looked barely of drinking age, others like myself were somewhat "more mature" in appearance. But there were, indeed, young and old, men and women, black and white, gay and straight, natty and rustic, Asian, Latino, Native American, European and plain "Ama-r-r-ican." Some were famous, others as yet unknown. Yet we all seemed to blend together in that venerable watering hole of the literatti and artistic, chatting here, moving there. Just plain folks, in a sense.
I thought about that, when I began to peruse further the works of this diverse group in the Pages of Red Room. What immediately struck me was how the advice, "Write what you know," had been taken to heart. How that dictum, like "You are what you eat," was illustrated in the profiles which I read.
I'm a child of The Great Depression, when in our curious but endearing (to me, now) blindness, we liked to think of ourselves as The American Melting Pot, together for good or ill, in a controversial experiment that was known in the 1930's as the American New Deal. [Absurd now, but I can distinctly remember wondering why some of my playmates were suntanned the year around!] In a great school-wide musical pageant (of maybe 150 kids), I remember being part of a Dutch windmill (innocently bottom to bottom with a comely Third Grad girl), and then a Filipino rice planter, knee deep in imaginary water, but for the finale of "Immigrants All, Americans All," we were all together in our mom-sewn costumes, singing our small hearts out to the rafters of the Geneva, Ohio, Grade School Auditorium. We Were . . . Americans!
And a few years later, in Junior High Chorus, we sang "Ballad for Americans":
"In '76, the sky was red/Thunder rumbling overhead/Old King George lay asleep in his bed/And on that stormy morn/Amer-ica was born!"
The great black singer, actor and activist, Paul Robeson added "lynching" to the verse when he sang it to a standing ovation from a National Radio Audience, for the Free Company, in 1939, and after almost everyone involved with that program was Black Listed, the term "McCarthyism" was thrown in during the 1960's, and in 1976, the word "Moslem."
But at the time, only a few "Average Americans" seemed disturbed that we were averaging a lynching a week. We seemed to ignore the destitution of "The Indians," and cheered when the well-starched white American Cavalry rode them down with sabers drawn at the climax of our Saturday Movie Matinee acts of genocide, when we had only finally begun to cluck about the Nazi holocaust of the Jews. We justified the "ethnic cleansing" of our Japanese population in 1942, which deprived Japanese-American Citizens of their property, and placed them in "detention camps." We could not imagine that such camps would be kept at the ready in 2008, or that today, American Citizens of Middle Eastern extraction (or any other extraction, really) might be whisked off to various "renditions" without the grant of Habeas Corpus.
But still, back in the 1930's, in our innocence, in our ignorance, in our idealism, we could still believe that we "were all in this together." The Deciders, like George W. Bush and his Elite Corps, had not taken the Supply Side Word According to Ronald Reagan and trickled it down on the 97% of us who have no substantial holdings in Halliburton, Exxon, etc, their favorite World Cartels (a term that I thought we really waged World War II against). It is hard to figure when all that feeling of unity changed.
I think, ironically, it came when we decided that we could not be a "melting pot," were a class-divided people; when we went through our necessary Civil Rights Revolutions, our Sexual Revolutions, our various other Revolutions, which tended to divide all of us, without necessarily uniting us again.
Anyway, the last few nights, it has struck me how many Red Room Authors write only on trendy whitebread, market place subjects. How many others only seem to know about Asian Culture. How many recognize nothing but Black History and Literature. How many suggest that the only holocaust can be a Jewish Holocaust. How many know only Feminist Literature or Gay Literature. How many don't seem to value anything written by an Asian or an African or a European, or for that matter, an American. How many don't seem to think anything of value was written before 1980 . . . or after 1950.
"We are what we write," it would seem.
I hope not. I trust that the wonderful bundle of writers who lit up the Red Room at Tosca's the other night are as "together" as they are "diverse." And that as I explore more of them, and read increasingly deeply in them, I will find some of that innocent but wiser "togetherness" which many of us used to deride in the 1950's.
Causes Alex Fraser Supports