Monday, September 12, 2016

Worker Writers School Fall Open House on Governor's Island

The packed house at Worker Writers School
This past Saturday, at the invitation of the brilliant poet, professor and activist Mark Nowak, I had the pleasure of attending and participating in this year's "Fall Open House," a series of mini-workshops, conversations, and readings, which the Worker Writers School organized in collaboration with PEN America. The half-day event took place at Nolan Park House #11 on Governors Island (which I'd never before visited), and brought together participants from a range of labor unions and social action organizations, ranging from the Domestic Workers United, the Taxi Workers Alliance, and the Street Vendor Project to Picture the Homeless and the Retail Action Project. Though a swelter descended in the early morning, transforming the Nolan Park house into a kiln, participants (including one of our new Rutgers-Newark MFA students) kept dropping in, and though I had to head back before the final session, Mark noted that many participants stayed even into the early evening.

The sessions included Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of Jacobin, speaking about socialism and organizing; a panel on Vocabularies of Resistance, featuring scholar, author, activist and Williams College professor Joy James, political scientist and founding member of Lower East Side Community Labor Organization Immanuel Ness, and investigative reporter and author Anjali Kamat; a writing session led by the stellar poet and professor Patricia Smith, entitled "Giving the Stories Room"; Pulitzer Prize-winner Dale Maharidge speaking on "Someplace Like America"; and a concluding reading by the Worker Writers’ School participants. I followed Bhaskar and talked not only about my own Counternarratives, but about the necessity of counternarratives and stories of resistance more broadly in transforming the guiding narratives in this and other societies.

In addition to the speaking and writing sessions, the Fall Open House also included the U.S. film premiere of Vienna-based artist and filmmaker Oliver Ressler's Emergency Turned Upside Down, which ran several times during the day, and, in the darkroom at the rear of the building, photographer Daniel Johnson created a Proletarian Nights Photo Booth, inspired by philosopher and critic Jacques Rancière, with both digital and Polaroid photos free of charge. Many thanks to Mark again, and to all the presenters and participants for an enlightening, invigorating day--and perfect reason finally to venture over to Governor's Island.

Some photos:

The bookselling table
Mark (at left) and some of
the participants
The Proletarian Nights Photo
Booth, pre-set up
Bhaskar Sunkara, at center, before
his presentation
During the first session
Marian, Joy James, and Immanuel Ness 
Immanuel Ness, about to speak 
Immanuel Ness, Anjali Kamat
and Patricia Smith
Patricia Smith fanning herself
(it was hot!) as she got everyone
thinking, dreaming and writing

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