where the writers are
Writers Voices, who is listening

From Jeff Lyon's great blog,
In these dangerous, polarizing, and sometimes too politically correct times, writers who bravely tackle issues of international or homeland security, or U.S. involvement in you-know-where, and who are not sufficiently cautious to keep at least one creative foot firmly planted in God-Bless-America territory, are quick to grow bullseyes on key body parts.

Just ask George Larkin, a Los Angeles writer, developer, and producer of award winning film, theater, and television. For the past five (or more) years, Larkin has been trying to get his play, Baghdad Prom, produced and the reception of the project has been other than embracing; even in liberal-land L.A. The play is a weaving of an American writer’s life and family, with five Iraqi writers and their lives and families; people who have lived through the invasion and occupation, and who are doing the only thing they can to deal with the horrors of that life—write about it. In the play, the main character “talks” with the Iraqi writers through e-mail and these e-mails act as the source material of vignettes from the writers' lives, which are acted out. At one point, Larkin tried to gather help for the production and contacted the main Yahoo bulletin board for Los Angeles-based actors, some 1,200 members strong.

Here’s what Larkin wrote on the bulletin board:"For the past three years, I've been getting in touch with writers and artists in Baghdad and getting their stories about what's going on now. We've heard from our media, government, pundits and even soldiers, but we've heard almost nothing from the Iraqis themselves. I've gotten amazing stories of life there, both fiction and nonfiction, of kidnapping, robbery, murder and forbidden love. They've also written to me what it was and what it is now like to be an artist there, and how dangerous that was and still is. I think we have a real chance to have our artists working with theirs. If you're interested in helping, or think your theater group would be, let me know."“Smart boy,” you say. “Artists helping artists,” you say. “This is a no-brainer. He’ll have to turn actors away!” Well, the result? "I got nothing," he says. "Not a peep."

I read this and my jaw fell open. For the past three months I’ve been reading how militant, and activist, and committed actors are (and have been) to union activism supporting the writer’s strike, and I have a hard time reconciling this image with the deafening silence Larkin received in his appeal for help. When it comes to Iraq and the war, people get weird, and it becomes easy to slough off the indifference to, “L.A. isn’t a political town.” Well, tell that to the Democratic front-runners! They’re banking on just the opposite come Super Tuesday.But, it’s not just L.A. that sees the world through narrow, self-interest-colored lenses. I suspect Larkin has had similar responses in other parts of the country, and not just from actors, from everyone. How does someone create a sense of urgency about something like this? How do you shake people awake or distract them from their mortgage worries, or their daycare problems, or general life-stuff that in the moment seems (and is) so important, and get them to care about five pissed off writers from a country we’re all sick and tired of hearing about?

Sadly, I don’t have the answer to that question. If I did, Baghdad Prom would be at the Geffen Playhouse.Now, granted, I haven't seen the play and don't know if it's good or bad as art, but I'd sure like the opportunity to see it, and make up my mind. What Larkin is doing is heroic, important, and uncomfortable. You don’t have to even like what all these Iraqi writers have to say—because these guys (yes, they’re all men) don’t sugar coat anything. But, as one of them (Safa Saad) stated so eloquently, “If they [his stories] can reach the American reader, I will write all these stories and I will never be tired. All the people in the world are brothers."

Baghdad Prom recently had a reading at a theater in Massachusetts, and they were overjoyed 45 enthusiastic people attended. What’s next? They don’t know. No one has stepped up to take this project under his or her wing. This play has no home. It is one more Iraqi refugee.So, the next time you're browsing through Yahoo bulletin boards looking for a job, just remember: writers helping writers, artists helping artists, and like the man said, “All the people in the world are brothers."

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