This is Katie Newport’s first post as web editor for Changing Lives, Changing Minds.
In the year 2000, I entered my freshman year at Framingham State College; I was eager to learn, hopeful for the future, and had indiscriminately chosen a major -Communication Arts. It wasn’t long before I decided to change my path; I had fallen in love – with Art History. For the next four years, I devoured books on feminist art history, marveled over the seemingly insignificant smudges and dollops of oil paint that make up a Van Gogh, and got lost in the presence of anything from the Dutch realists.
During this time, in lieu of electives, I took anything and everything that related to English literature or writing. Children’s Literature, World Literature, Myth and Folklore, Women Writers, The Classics, etc. Each of these satisfied my insatiable need for the written word, and – even more compelling – they were fun. Four years later, I had taken so many of these elective classes that, upon graduating, I was awarded a degree in Art History and English; my reading and writing habits had become functional, and permanent, fixtures.
Over time, it became increasingly obvious that writing was, in fact, my calling. And though I still lose my breath at the sight of a Dutch memento mori, I know that Art History is the hobby, not Literature.
As my graduate career in the Professional Writing program draws to a close this semester, and as I accept this position as Web Editor for Changing Lives, Changing Minds, I cannot help but reflect on the role that literature has played in my life up until this point. I cannot help but wonder where I would be without my shelves, stocked with dog-eared favorites and stiffly bound not-yet-read books? Who would I have become if not for the likes of Judy Blume at age thirteen, Jane Austen at sixteen, F. Scott Fitzgerald at seventeen, and Steinbeck at nineteen? Their voices and their words changed mine.
Similarly so, the Changing Lives Through Literature program transforms reading from a passive, solitary practice to an active, participatory endeavor – one that engages and expands upon an individual’s experience or existence, creating opportunities for growth and change. The reflection of one’s self in the pages of classic literature is a striking thing; it is a moment that is both humbling and grandiose, and ultimately hard to forget. It is a moment that can strike you much like looking closely, and intensely, at a painting.
In my undergraduate Art History classes, we’d begin to discuss a piece by looking at it in full view, displayed up on the projector screen. Then, the slide would change, and we would visually dissect detailed photographs. As a class, we would discuss each nuance, color choice, brush selection, and medium variation.
After a while, it became harder to see the piece as a whole, and instead we saw it as a marriage of thousands of distinct, deliberate choices, all of which were made by one person, in one moment, for one end. This exercise in intimacy compels a relationship between the piece and the audience, much like close reading and literary analysis.
I am very excited about the upcoming months here at Changing Lives, Changing Minds, and look forward to being a contributor and facilitator of discussion, and more so, an audience to our essayists.
During my junior year, highly regarded American novelist Robert Stone came to speak at Assumption College in Worcester, MA.
Demonstrating that the pen is truly mightier than the sword, Stone writes not only to entertain, but also to alert, educate, and motivate others, as I plan to do as a journalist. Known for using literature to spark political activism, Stone has written numerous pieces on the Vietnam War, including “Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties,” from which he read several passages.
In this memoir, Stone reflects on his time as a soldier and correspondent in Vietnam, an experience that inspired him to write for a better world.
After Stone had shared some of his work with us, an older man stood up and asked, “Why aren’t kids these days involved like you and I were? Why don’t they do something or try to make a difference in this world?”
Before giving his input on how the draft and the socialists of the 1960s made a large difference, Stone scanned the audience, looking for a brave, young soul who may have some proof of the contrary.
Well, here goes nothing.
“Kids these days,” or Generation Y, are the 76 million Americans born roughly between 1980 and 1994. Also known as Echo Boomers, Generation Y is expected to live up to the working of the Baby Boomers. It has been declared the next big generation, an exceptionally powerful group that can, and will transform every life stage it enters, just as our parents’ generation did.
Like the Baby Boomers, we’re facing an unpopular, foreign, and seemingly endless war in addition to countless other issues. But compared to the activists who spent the 60’s and 70’s fighting for civil rights, women’s equality, and an end to the Vietnam War, Generation Y seems anything but radical. With this, we have been labeled apathetic and self-absorbed.
The Prison Diary of Arthur Longworth #299180
Pygmy Forest Press
From Pygmy Forest Press publisher Leonard J. Cirino:
Arthur Longworth, 43, has been incarcerated since age 18. His youth was spent in a variety of foster homes–usually for only two or three months at a time. He was separated from his sister at an early age and, in his teens, he lived in a series of youth facilities. At sixteen he was released to the streets with no means of support. he had only a seventh grade education and began life in Seattle breaking into cars and doing petty criminal activity. At age 18 he escalated into armed robbery and in one holdup a victim was killed. Arthur was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
After he arrived in prison he asked to go to school to get an education. He was told that as a “lifer” he wouldn’t need an education. Eventually he visited the library and educated himself. He is a PEN prisoner writing award winner and has published one of his Prison Diary at the Anne Frank Center in New York City. Longworth’s writing have also recently appeared in Iconoclast, a New York literary magazine.
The diary itself is a collection of eleven short entries reflecting on Longworth’s experiences in the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington. The following are short excerpts from the eighth essay, “About Education” and reflect on the power of literature to touch the lives of offenders.
My favorite is a small book entitled One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich–the story of a day in the life of a prisoner in the Soviet Union. I love that book, not only because it reflects the strength and perseverance of the human spirit in the face of seeming hopelessness but, because it could have only been written by a prisoner…only a prisoner can know of so many of the things he wrote.In fact the book startled me when I read it because I knew it was written about prisoners in another country, during a different time, under different circumstances, yet I felt as if I was reading about prisoners and guards I know, what goes on here, and what goes through many of our minds while we’re experiencing it. There were so many parallels, I couldn’t help but feel close to them. Of course, I am conscious that Ivan and many of those in prison around him were political prisoners, and I am those around me are criminals, but there is still a connection…and that connection is that we are human beings.
Maybe I am deluding myself, but I have always felt that Mr. Solzhenitsyn would be able to relate to what is going on here with many prisoners…feel as close to us as I have always felt to him. Getting a sentence of Life without Parole when you are young is hopelessness. Continuing on after that, learning to survive in an American prison and proceed forward as decades stack one atop another, and you have long since forgotten what is on the other side of these walls, is perseverance of human spirit.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s writing inspired me as a young prisoner to continue my efforts to educate myself and, eventually, led me to write a book modeled after his One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It’s a manuscript that is passed from convict to convict; the story of one day in the life of a prisoner inside the prison in which I grew into adulthood and have spent most of my life–the prison in Walla Walla. When officials there discovered a copy and read it, they threw me in the hole and revoked my medium-custody classification. But the manuscript still makes it rounds. Prisoners read it because it puts words to what they are unable to, relates the truth about prison, and what it does to those who are in it. I have always felt that Mr. Solzhenitsyn is as responsible for the existence of this convict manuscript as I am.
To purchase a copy of The Prison Diary of Arthur Longworth #299180 (for $7), contact editor Leonard J. Cirino at cirino7715(at)comcast.net