American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Readings in Political Communications and the Arts, with a Focus on Social Justice and Peace Issues
This reading list was developed for two courses I teach at Boston University, one for first year honors students, another for advanced students majoring in journalism and/or liberal arts. It combines some classic and a few modern examples of why novels, drama, poetry, photography, and music remain powerful and evocative; indeed some artists have used them effectively as calls to action.
Upton Sinclair, The Jungle. Classic exposé of the meatpacking industry, though socialism rather than reform of that industry was Sinclair's major goal.
Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy. Class disparities combined with "the American Dream" in its rawest, most malignant form. More seductive and less intrusively didactic than Sinclair.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath. Most of us read this in high school; it is worth a re-reading if only because in the decades since its publication, our experience has been enriched through the attention to Steinbeck of many others (a major film; the Depression photographers; at least two folk singers--Guthrie and Springsteen--see below.)
Richard Wright, Native Son. Still gripping though somewhat dated story involving a poor black protagonist, a privileged white woman, and the manipulative role of the Communist Party in the Popular Front era. But just how far have we progressed?
Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got Hi Gun. Perhaps the most potent antiwar novel around (it sneaks into your mind and heart in a way that Conrad and Heller and Hemingway do not.) My students tell me that it literally seduced and then sickened them.
Alice Walker, The Color Purple. The movie was wonderful but less honest and less raw: this is the story of one black woman's painful growth in self-awareness and self-esteem. It is more about male oppression than it is about racism, though both themes are present.
Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty. Depression-era play featuring individual stories of poverty and oppression as six men wait and debate whether to go on strike. The live audience rose to its feet at the end, shouting "Strike! Strike! Strike!" My senior citizen friends still recall it fondly; my students are much more blasé.
Arthur Miller, The Crucible. Appearing as it did at the height of the McCarthy Era, this play should be read/seen at two levels--first as an account of the Salem witch hunts, and second as an indictment of McCarthyism. But at either level it is a tale of hysteria, of political opportunism, and at the end, of individual courage. (Note: This play reads extremely well, and in fact has long analyses and commentaries by Miller.)
Arthur Sainer, The Radical Theater Notebook. History and description of major theatre groups of the 60s and 70, including a few that continue to this day (Bread and Puppet; the San Francisco Mime Theater.)
Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Probably the most prolific of US black poets. His work spans several decades--i.e. the Harlem Renaissance through Civil Rights movement. Highly controversial--banned for profanity, for religious disrespect, and most likely for his outrage over oppression.
Maya Angelou, Poems (particularly Shaker, Why Don't You Sing.) Subtler and more gently symbolic than Hughes, but with a message equally chilling. I ask my students why one black poet was reviled while the other was invited to speak poetry at Clinton's inauguration. I do not think it is the times alone.
Edward Steichen, The Bitter Years. Here, in one slim volume, are most of the major Depression Photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Walker Evans, and Ben Shahn--evocative, ironic (billboards portraying the land of plenty), angry, sympathetic. But I urge that you dip into this only as a starting point; the quality of reproduction is poor as is the paper; go to more recent works by the same artists.
Ray Pratt, Rhythm and Resistance: Explorations in the Political Uses of Music. Pratt's view (with which I agree) is that music is more effective in its building of community (for the convinced) than it is in its ability to convert outsiders. This is a highly readable historical and psychological study of the roots and impact of a broad range of music (blues, gospel, folk, pop)--with emphasis on Guthrie, Seeger, Dylan, and Springsteen in particular. But reading about this music alone isn't enough; go out and listen to it as well!
--Betty Zisk is a Green Party activist and a member
of Friends Meeting at Cambridge.