Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wednesday Writings ~~ Guest Post by Dan Holloway

Hello blog friends. I hope life slows down soon so I can get back to my regular visiting schedule. I miss not knowing what's going on with y'all!

Tomorrow is Gumbo Writer's first birthday, so in honor of that most momentous occasion, we've got a guest in the house today. Please meet Dan Holloway who would love to answer your questions. He's got some good information to share on culture and writing:

Every Story Counts

Thank you so much to Angie for having me. I hope this post is in the wonderful, warm spirit of her blog.

I do have a serious point to make, but I’ll get it out of the way first. One of the things I like to say to people is “The stories we publish are the voice with which we speak to history.” What I mean is in two hundred years’ time, people will only know us through the stories that have survived. Technology means that more and more stories will survive – and what this post is about is outlining three of the amazing projects setting out to preserve them. But that doesn’t place less of a responsibility on publishers, it creates a greater one. Because when historians look back, they will see the published books, the “official version” of our society, and they will also see the digital version, arguably the more representative one. And when they compare the two, that’ll tell them what we as a society really valued – and more importantly, what we didn’t.

OK, that’s the contemplation done. The great news is there are more projects now devoted to preserving our world’s stories before they disappear than at any other time. The result isn’t just that history will have a clearer picture of us. The result is that our life here and now is enriched, because we can all have access to a richly-textured world of story-telling.

I want to have a very quick look at three very different projects, each of which is dedicated to keeping culture alive.

The Endangered Language Fund does exactly what you’d imagine. It works to preserve the world’s endangered languages, endowing projects to that end. Why does this matter? It’s not, after all, strictly true to say that stories are lost when a language dies out, they simply migrate to a different language. Only that’s not the full picture – anyone who’s witnessed someone from the US speaking to someone from the UK knows how deeply connected language and meaning are. There are around 6,000 endangered languages in the world.

The UNESCO Red Book lists them and categorises them under five headings, from potentially endangered to extinct. It sounds rather like the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s classification of endangered species. And as far as the richness of our world is concerned, the work is just as important.

One example of this kind of cultural preservation I came across recently is A Jay Adler’s remarkable (all the more so because he’s a self-confessed tech troglodyte, who’s dragged himself into the digital age solely to help preserve the cultures he cares about) website The Sad Red Earth. He runs the site with photographer Julia Dean. I can’t put what the site is about nearly as well as Jay and Julia, so here’s what they say:

“We are two teachers – a writer and a photographer – traveling by motor home and considering the country. We report on contemporary Native American life and comment on American society, politics, and culture. Our intent is to document the range and state of Native American life in the country today, a story that remains the most neglected and underreported in the United States. This blog, the sad red earth, is an account of our experiences as we travel the nation. At the end of our journey we intend to produce a book of photography and prose entitled Native Now: the Lives of Native Americans in the Twenty-First Century.”

It’s wonderful that individuals are doing this kind of thing. It’s a little sad that it’s left to individuals to do it.

Finally, a project to remind us that the silent and the invisible exist on all our doorsteps, and speak all our languages (or, at least, use our words). ABC tales is a site designed to help everyone tell their story. In particular, it’s a site that acts as a repository for stories told by the homeless. Not just (but obviously, and importantly, including) memoirs, but fiction and poetry. And they bring those stories to a global readership.

There are people living on the streets who’ve never heard of a query letter, who wouldn’t know where to start holding a pen in their freezing hands to write a synopsis. And as a result they are totally, and unless things change permanently, excluded from the traditional world of publishing. Does that make their stories any less important? Of course it doesn’t. Perhaps even more importantly, as we take a look at our privileged selves, does that make their stories any less good than ours? Take a look and find out.

Oh, and do give me a shout on any projects doing this kind of work you know about. If I can do anything to bring them to a wider audience, I will.

Dan Holloway is the organiser of the Free-e-day festival, on online event on December 1st designed to celebrate, and offer practical help to, every writer, musician, artist, and filmmaker working outside the mainstream cultural industries. He is also co-founder of the Year Zero Writers collective.

His novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall was a number one book in 2008 on the websites Authonomy and Youwriteon, and is now available to download for free in all e-book formats from Smashwords and as a paperback for £7.98 ($11.25) from Lulu. It tells the story of 18-year-old art student Sandrine, whose mother abandoned her when she was a week old, the day the Berlin Wall came down, as she tries to find her place in the ruins of Eastern Europe, torn between the past and the future, her family and her lover.

*Image by:


Dan Holloway said...

Thank you so much to Angie for having me. I will be away from the web for a couple of hours but will then be back to answer any and all questions.

May I also mention the following wonderful project, a reading group for the homeless:

Angie Ledbetter said...

My pleasure Dan. And thank YOU for spreading the good word to places which have less (or no) access. Important work!

Deb Shucka said...

Angie, you've done it again. Dan's writing is amazing, and his mission so admirable. Thank you both for expanding my horizons today.

Deb Shucka said...

P.S. Happy first blog year!

Dan Holloway said...

Deb, thank you. it's an absolute pleasure to be here. And on the first birthday -I had no idea!! I should be baking a cake but on a site like this I'd feel hugely inadequate. Nonetheless, whilst my passion is savoury, I make a mean lavender cheesecake, so have one on me :-)

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Happy 1st Angie!

Dan, what an informative post. I'm off you check out all these links.

Dan Holloway said...

Hey, Elizabeth! Thank you. I've just been over to your blog. Being from the UK, I never had any idea about the rough deal Fresno gets - not until I met the wonderful artist (Sarah E Melville) who designs my book covers. Sometimes she says being from Fresno really gets her down.

I love cities, but I live in the middle of the countryside, and it's got a lot to be said for it, not least being near some of the tastiest, freshest meat and cheese in the country!

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Angie, for sharing such an informative guest post - and congrats on the one-year anniversary of your blog!

Dan - As someone whose next novel will focus on Native American themes (and who once traveled the country via RV), I'm especially taken with the Sad Red Earth project. Thanks for sharing... and for trying to help those with fewer resources get their stories told. Such endeavors are indeed worthy!

Dan Holloway said...

Laura, I'm sure Jay and Julia would be delighted both to hear from you and to help in any way they can. Do get in touch with them. I'm so glad thisis of practical use to you.

dellgirl said...

Thank you, Dan, for this very informative post. I will visit the links soon. You're doing a wonderful thing and I wish you much success.

Angie, thank you for having Dan share this with us.

Have a great weekend, see you soon.

Jessica Nelson said...

What an interesting post. I think it's great that those two people are driving around doing that. I think it will make their reports more real than if some government or grant did it. Plus, they have passion for it.

Sounds like some good sites. I knew some languages were dying out, but not so many! Wow.

Michelle H. said...

Another wonderful guest post. Thank you, Dan, for this information. And thank you, Angie, for hosting it!

Dan Holloway said...

Thank you all.

Yes, Jessica, you can feel the passion in what they're doing, and that probably wouldn't be there in projects that are centrally funded - but it would be great to have a resource where their work could be stored in perpetuity.

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