By Melissa Arnold
The written word has the ability to stir up emotions in ways little else can. Whether it’s a collection of zealous love poems, a thought-provoking novel or the adrenaline rush of a favorite song on the radio, words are powerful.
Like many Americans, essayist and novelist Roger Rosenblatt is heartbroken over the intense and sometimes even violent divisions in America today.
“I was really concerned with how ready people are to argue and fight with one another,” said Rosenblatt, who lives on the East End. “And I started to think, ‘Can I make a difference here?’”
An idea came quickly, and Rosenblatt fired off a letter to friends, former students and colleagues, all of them writers in some fashion. His message: Let’s come together and use our talents to encourage unity and peace.
A few days later, he had dozens of enthusiastic responses. The result is Write America: A Reading for Our Country, a free, weekly online event hosted by Book Revue in Huntington. Beginning Feb. 1 and continuing through September, authors from around the country and all walks of life will read from their work, share their thoughts, and take questions from viewers.
Book Revue last partnered with Rosenblatt in the fall, when they held a celebration and comedic “roast” for his 80th birthday. Event coordinator Loren Limongelli said they were thrilled to hear from him again, especially with such a wonderful idea.
“Roger has gathered artists from all ages, races and backgrounds to bridge the divide in our nation and reach people with the reminder that we’re all human,” said Limongelli, who will emcee the series. “We’ve had unwavering support from the community during the pandemic and we want to give back to them by providing really exciting events with well-known authors.”
The growing list of participants runs the gamut from up-and-coming authors to award-winning and nationally recognized writers, including Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Major Jackson, Alan Alda, Alice McDermott, Amy Hempel, Natalie Diaz, Tyehimba Jess, Paul Auster, and many more.
“I wanted to make sure we had representation from all parts of the country, different kinds of people, and different types of writing as well: poets, novelists, essayists, women, men, people of color,” Rosenblatt said. “They got it. Writers are generally private people and we joke that they shouldn’t let us out, but there was a unique opportunity here to do some good. We feel like we have a responsibility to reach out to the public.”
The writers were encouraged to read from works they feel are healing and inspiring for all people, regardless of differences in politics or opinion.
Suffolk County local Alan Alda has spent the latest part of his career immersed in the art of communication. He has written memoirs and books exploring how we relate to one another, what’s most important in life and why it all matters.
“I think it’s great that Roger has opened a door for writers to be able to make their own special contribution to national healing through their writing,” Alda said.
“I’m not sure what I’ll be reading yet, but I have my eye on a description I wrote in my last book of the day mortal enemies took an impromptu day off from killing each other.”
Novelist Alice McDermott recalled that in his letter, Roger said that while writers don’t make many observable changes in the world, they can make a little noise.
“Is this important? I think so. Our public discourse of late has made it so easy for us to dismiss and to vilify one another, to silence and to degrade,” she said. “Maybe we can help to restore, even temporarily — we are human, after all, and full of flaws — the way we speak about and think about and even feel about our world and one another.”
Write America kicks off on Feb. 1 and will be held live at 7 p.m. Mondays on CrowdCast, a web-based meeting platform. All events are free. Registration is required by visiting www.bookrevue.com/write-america-series. For additional information, call 631-271-1442.
WRITE AMERICA SCHEDULE:
Rita Dove & Billy Collins
Francine Prose & Paul Muldoon
Russell Banks, Major Jackson and Alice McDermott
Patricia Marx & Garry Trudeau
Alan Bergman & Adam Gopnik
Alan Alda & Arlene Alda
Linda Pastan, Paul Harding and Juan Felipe Herrera
George H. Colt & Anne Fadiman
Kirsten Valdez Quade & Nick Flynn
Kurt Andersen & Amy Hempel
Claudia Acevedo-Quiñones & Julie Sheehan
Natalie Diaz & Daniel Halpern
Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt & David Remnick
Carlos Fonseca & Rose Styron
Lloyd Schwartz & Priya Jain
Patricia McCormick & Michelle Whittaker
Grace Schulman & Lance Morrow
Bruce Weber & Molly Gaudry
More dates will be announced with authors … Adrienne Unger, Amy Cacciola, Cornelia Channing, Dar-Juinn Chou, David Lynn, Elizabeth Hawes Weinstock, Emma Walton Hamilton, Genevieve Sly Crane, Gregory Pardlo, Hilma Wolitzer, Jacqueline Leo, Jean Hanff Korelitz, Jennifer McDonald, Jill McCorkle, Jillian LaRussa, John Leo, Joyce Maynard, Jules Feiffer, Kate Lehrer, Kaylie Jones, Lora Tucker, Lou Ann Walker, Richard Ford, Robert Lipsyte, Robert Reeves, Roger Rosenblatt, Vjay Seshadri, Suchita Nayar, Susan Isaacs, Susan Minot, Tyehimba Jess, Ursula Hegi, and Vanessa Cuti.
This article first appeared in Prime Times, a supplement of TBR News Media, on Jan. 28, 2021.