The Director Dish

Shortly after the shootings in Orlando, Florida, occurred, I was at a meeting of the board of the American Association of University Presses (AAUP) in advance of the association’s annual meeting. In discussing how to address the shootings at the meeting and what the member presses could do, we reached the conclusion that university presses already do something vital and important—we publish books and journal articles that tackle head-on issues such as violence, oppression, racism, climate change, and more. And we do it in a reasoned and responsible way, whether through non-fiction or fiction, or even poetry. And so, as the members of the university press community gathered in Philadelphia in June, here is what AAUP Executive Director Peter Berkery told them:

“In 2014, the University Press of Florida published the collected poems of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban poet self-exiled to NYC because of the Castro regime’s persecution of LGBTQ people. Arenas’ experiences of oppression ultimately led to his suicide in 1990.

An excerpt from Arenas’ poem Morir en Junio y con la Lengua Afuera speaks powerfully to the immense sorrow and outrage that have followed last Sunday’s horror in Orlando:

For against death,
our furies are no longer enough,
our hatred,
our frustrations or our,
good intentions.
For against death,
there are no massages nor laying ourselves down,
nor anything that didn’t happen,
nor hours we could not use except to flee.
If only you were to gesture against the sunbeam,
that offends your eyes each day,
when it sneaks in to touch the carpet.
Sing,
let someone know you’re exploding,
let someone know we’re all exploding always,
let someone far away, someone far, far away,
away in another time,
(the time of attentive hatred, the time of fierce furies)
hear your explosion always.
Let your explosion be heard always.
Let your explosion become one with time, take up residence in time.
And let it be,
one more shriek in the hated concert.
And let it be,
another constant sputtering in the same bubbling cauldron.
And let it be,
one more destructive pest, royally equipped,
for the voyage and the sojourn,
—for the journey—
over the timeless white hot terrain ahead.

(© 2014 Estate of Reinaldo Arenas)

University presses play an essential role in the care and feeding of civil society by cultivating and publishing books like this one, works that engage unflinchingly with serious issues like the hateful and persistent persecution of gay and transgender people and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

Recognizing the overwhelming impotence of moments of silence, the last few awful days have led many of us to ask ourselves “What can I do to fight the ignorance, the hatred, the violence?”

And what I’d like to say to you tonight is this: you’re already doing it.

I urge you to embrace the honor of this essential work over the next few days, along with a renewed commitment to shine the bright light of knowledge on a world that desperately needs it.”

 

As we start a new academic year—always a bright, promising beginning—let us keep both the words of this poem and the words of Peter Berkery in mind as inspiration.

-Donna (@donnashear)