Monday, August 21, 2017

A Love Story

Jackie Lopez

Our soul split apart at birth, and we behaved
most mischievously: You were a man and I was a woman.
When our eyes met, our hearts galloped in the forest.
We encountered matrimony on the outskirts of civilizations.
We were anointed for each other at the turn of the century.
We stood to staring at the Universe.
I heard your whispers on the winds.
We climbed into each other’s minds.
The light of dawn eloped with us.
I heard a whippoorwill in the evening sun.
You took my hand in the Sunday rain.
When I was sad, you took me to the avenue of love declarations.
When you were sad, I took you to the concert hall on Apricot Avenue.
We never lied to each other, and we always organized an evolution.
The status-quo wanted to lunch with us, and
we hid in the sun and ocean.
I was mesmerized by your roller coaster embrace.
You were allowed to have my dress.
We were children in the East Coast.
We were a phenomenon in the West.
I struggled to take my bra off,
as though I were a sinner.
But you were always an angel with an engine under your hood.
Make no mistake about it:
This story should end with a period,
but it doesn’t because it will go on forever…

I love you very much!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle--have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.
Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Novels of E. M. Forster

Virginia Woolfe


There are many reasons which should prevent one from criticizing the work of contemporaries. Besides the obvious uneasiness — the fear of hurting feelings — there is too the difficulty of being just. Coming out one by one, their books seem like parts of a design which is slowly uncovered. Our appreciation may be intense, but our curiosity is even greater. Does the new fragment add anything to what went before? Does it carry out our theory of the author’s talent, or must we alter our forecast? Such questions ruffle what should be the smooth surface of our criticism and make it full of argument and interrogation. With a novelist like Mr. Forster this is specially true, for he is in any case an author about whom there is considerable disagreement. There is something baffling and evasive in the very nature of his gifts. So, remembering that we are at best only building up a theory which may be knocked down in a year or two by Mr. Forster himself, let us take Mr. Forster’s novels in the order in which they were written, and tentatively and cautiously try to make them yield us an answer.

The order in which they were written is indeed of some importance, for at the outset we see that Mr. Forster is extremely susceptible to the influence of time. He sees his people much at the mercy of those conditions which change with the years. He is acutely conscious of the bicycle and of the motor car; of the public school and of the university; of the suburb and of the city. The social historian will find his books full of illuminating information. In 1905 Lilia learned to bicycle, coasted down the High Street on Sunday evening, and fell off at the turn by the church. For this she was given a talking to by her brother-in-law which she remembered to her dying day. It is on Tuesday that the housemaid cleans out the drawing-room at Sawston. Old maids blow into their gloves when they take them off. Mr. Forster is a novelist, that is to say, who sees his people in close contact with their surroundings. And therefore the colour and constitution of the year 1905 affect him far more than any year in the calendar could affect the romantic Meredith or the poetic Hardy. But we discover as we turn the page that observation is not an end in itself; it is rather the goad, the gadfly driving Mr. Forster to provide a refuge from this misery, an escape from this meanness. Hence we arrive at that balance of forces which plays so large a part in the structure of Mr. Forster’s novels. Sawston implies Italy; timidity, wildness; convention, freedom; unreality, reality. These are the villains and heroes of much of his writing. In Where Angels Fear to Tread the disease, convention, and the remedy, nature, are provided if anything with too eager a simplicity, too simple an assurance, but with what a freshness, what a charm! Indeed it would not be excessive if we discovered in this slight first novel evidence of powers which only needed, one might hazard, a more generous diet to ripen into wealth and beauty. Twenty-two years might well have taken the sting from the satire and shifted the proportions of the whole. But, if that is to some extent true, the years have had no power to obliterate the fact that, though Mr. Forster may be sensitive to the bicycle and the duster, he is also the most persistent devotee of the soul. Beneath bicycles and dusters, Sawston and Italy, Philip, Harriet, and Miss Abbott, there always lies for him — it is this which makes him so tolerant a satirist — a burning core. It is the soul; it is reality; it is truth; it is poetry; it is love; it decks itself in many shapes, dresses itself in many disguises. But get at it he must; keep from it he cannot. Over brakes and byres, over drawing-room carpets and mahogany sideboards, he flies in pursuit. Naturally the spectacle is sometimes comic, often fatiguing; but there are moments — and his first novel provides several instances — when he lays his hands on the prize.

Yet, if we ask ourselves upon which occasions this happens and how, it will seem that those passages which are least didactic, least conscious of the pursuit of beauty, succeed best in achieving it. When he allows himself a holiday — some phrase like that comes to our lips; when he forgets the vision and frolics and sports with the fact; when, having planted the apostles of culture in their hotel, he creates airily, joyfully, spontaneously, Gino the dentist’s son sitting in the cafe with his friends, or describes — it is a masterpiece of comedy — the performance of Lucia Di Lammermoor, it is then that we feel that his aim is achieved. Judging, therefore, on the evidence of this first book, with its fantasy, its penetration, its remarkable sense of design, we should have said that once Mr. Forster had acquired freedom, had passed beyond the boundaries of Sawston, he would stand firmly on his feet among the descendants of Jane Austen and Peacock. But the second novel, The Longest Journey, leaves us baffled and puzzled. The opposition is still the same: truth and untruth; Cambridge and Sawston; sincerity and sophistication. But everything is accentuated. He builds his Sawston of thicker bricks and destroys it with stronger blasts. The contrast between poetry and realism is much more precipitous. And now we see much more clearly to what a task his gifts commit him. We see that what might have been a passing mood is in truth a conviction. He believes that a novel must take sides in the human conflict. He sees beauty — none more keenly; but beauty imprisoned in a fortress of brick and mortar whence he must extricate her. Hence he is always constrained to build the cage — society in all its intricacy and triviality — before he can free the prisoner. The omnibus, the villa, the suburban residence, are an essential part of his design. They are required to imprison and impede the flying flame which is so remorselessly caged behind them. At the same time, as we read The Longest Journey we are aware of a mocking spirit of fantasy which flouts his seriousness. No one seizes more deftly the shades and shadows of the social comedy; no one more amusingly hits off the comedy of luncheon and tea party and a game of tennis at the rectory. His old maids, his clergy, are the most lifelike we have had since Jane Austen laid down the pen. But he has into the bargain what Jane Austen had not — the impulses of a poet. The neat surface is always being thrown into disarray by an outburst of lyric poetry. Again and again in The Longest Journey we are delighted by some exquisite description of the country; or some lovely sight — like that when Rickie and Stephen send the paper boats burning through the arch — is made visible to us forever. Here, then, is a difficult family of gifts to persuade to live in harmony together: satire and sympathy; fantasy and fact; poetry and a prim moral sense. No wonder that we are often aware of contrary currents that run counter to each other and prevent the book from bearing down upon us and overwhelming us with the authority of a masterpiece. Yet if there is one gift more essential to a novelist than another it is the power of combination — the single vision. The success of the masterpieces seems to lie not so much in their freedom from faults — indeed we tolerate the grossest errors in them all — but in the immense persuasiveness of a mind which has completely mastered its perspective.


We look then, as time goes on, for signs that Mr. Forster is committing himself; that he is allying himself to one of the two great camps to which most novelists belong. Speaking roughly, we may divide them into the preachers and the teachers, headed by Tolstoy and Dickens, on the one hand, and the pure artists, headed by Jane Austen and Turgenev, on the other. Mr. Forster, it seems, has a strong impulse to belong to both camps at once. He has many of the instincts and aptitudes of the pure artist (to adopt the old classification)— an exquisite prose style, an acute sense of comedy, a power of creating characters in a few strokes which live in an atmosphere of their own; but he is at the same time highly conscious of a message. Behind the rainbow of wit and sensibility there is a vision which he is determined that we shall see. But his vision is of a peculiar kind and his message of an elusive nature. He has not great interest in institutions. He has none of that wide social curiosity which marks the work of Mr. Wells. The divorce law and the poor law come in for little of his attention. His concern is with the private life; his message is addressed to the soul. “It is the private life that holds out the mirror to infinity; personal intercourse, and that alone, that ever hints at a personality beyond our daily vision.” Our business is not to build in brick and mortar, but to draw together the seen and the unseen. We must learn to build the “rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts.” This belief that it is the private life that matters, that it is the soul that is eternal, runs through all his writing. It is the conflict between Sawston and Italy in Where Angels Fear to Tread; between Rickie and Agnes in The Longest Journey; between Lucy and Cecil in A Room with A View. It deepens, it becomes more insistent as time passes. It forces him on from the lighter and more whimsical short novels past that curious interlude, The Celestial Omnibus, to the two large books, Howards End and A Passage to India, which mark his prime.

But before we consider those two books let us look for a moment at the nature of the problem he sets himself. It is the soul that matters; and the soul, as we have seen, is caged in a solid villa of red brick somewhere in the suburbs of London. It seems, then, that if his books are to succeed in their mission his reality must at certain points become irradiated; his brick must be lit up; we must see the whole building saturated with light. We have at once to believe in the complete reality of the suburb and in the complete reality of the soul. In this combination of realism and mysticism his closest affinity is, perhaps, with Ibsen. Ibsen has the same realistic power. A room is to him a room, a writing table a writing table, and a waste-paper basket a waste-paper basket. At the same time, the paraphernalia of reality have at certain moments to become the veil through which we see infinity. When Ibsen achieves this, as he certainly does, it is not by performing some miraculous conjuring trick at the critical moment. He achieves it by putting us into the right mood from the very start and by giving us the right materials for his purpose. He gives us the effect of ordinary life, as Mr. Forster does, but he gives it us by choosing a very few facts and those of a highly relevant kind. Thus when the moment of illumination comes we accept it implicitly. We are neither roused nor puzzled; we do not have to ask ourselves, What does this mean? We feel simply that the thing we are looking at is lit up, and its depths revealed. It has not ceased to be itself by becoming something else.

Something of the same problem lies before Mr. Forster — how to connect the actual thing with the meaning of the thing and to carry the reader’s mind across the chasm which divides the two without spilling a single drop of its belief. At certain moments on the Arno, in Hertfordshire, in Surrey, beauty leaps from the scabbard, the fire of truth flames through the crusted earth; we must see the red brick villa in the suburbs of London lit up. But it is in these great scenes which are the justification of the huge elaboration of the realistic novel that we are most aware of failure. For it is here that Mr. Forster makes the change from realism to symbolism; here that the object which has been so uncompromisingly solid becomes, or should become, luminously transparent. He fails, one is tempted to think, chiefly because that admirable gift of his for observation has served him too well. He has recorded too much and too literally. He has given us an almost photographic picture on one side of the page; on the other he asks us to see the same view transformed and radiant with eternal fires. The bookcase which falls upon Leonard Bast in Howards End should perhaps come down upon him with all the dead weight of smoke-dried culture; the Marabar caves should appear to us not real caves but, it may be, the soul of India. Miss Quested should be transformed from an English girl on a picnic to arrogant Europe straying into the heart of the East and getting lost there. We qualify these statements, for indeed we are not quite sure whether we have guessed aright. Instead of getting that sense of instant certainty which we get in The Wild Duck or in The Master Builder, we are puzzled, worried. What does this mean? we ask ourselves. What ought we to understand by this? And the hesitation is fatal. For we doubt both things — the real and the symbolical: Mrs. Moore, the nice old lady, and Mrs. Moore, the sibyl. The conjunction of these two different realities seems to cast doubt upon them both. Hence it is that there is so often an ambiguity at the heart of Mr. Forster’s novels. We feel that something has failed us at the critical moment; and instead of seeing, as we do in The Master Builder, one single whole we see two separate parts.

The stories collected under the title of The Celestial Omnibus represent, it may be, an attempt on Mr. Forster’s part to simplify the problem which so often troubles him of connecting the prose and poetry of life. Here he admits definitely if discreetly the possibility of magic. Omnibuses drive to Heaven; Pan is heard in the brushwood; girls turn into trees. The stories are extremely charming. They release the fantasticality which is laid under such heavy burdens in the novels. But the vein of fantasy is not deep enough or strong enough to fight single-handed against those other impulses which are part of his endowment. We feel that he is an uneasy truant in fairyland. Behind the hedge he always hears the motor horn and the shuffling feet of tired wayfarers, and soon he must return. One slim volume indeed contains all that he has allowed himself of pure fantasy. We pass from the freakish land where boys leap into the arms of Pan and girls become trees to the two Miss Schlegels, who have an income of six hundred pounds apiece and live in Wickham Place.


Much though we may regret the change, we cannot doubt that it was right. For none of the books before Howards End and A Passage to India altogether drew upon the full range of Mr. Forster’s powers. With his queer and in some ways contradictory assortment of gifts, he needed, it seemed, some subject which would stimulate his highly sensitive and active intelligence, but would not demand the extremes of romance or passion; a subject which gave him material for criticism, and invited investigation; a subject which asked to be built up of an enormous number of slight yet precise observations, capable of being tested by an extremely honest yet sympathetic mind; yet, with all this, a subject which when finally constructed would show up against the torrents of the sunset and the eternities of night with a symbolical significance. In Howards End the lower middle, the middle, the upper middle classes of English society are so built up into a complete fabric. It is an attempt on a larger scale than hitherto, and, if it fails, the size of the attempt is largely responsible. Indeed, as we think back over the many pages of this elaborate and highly skilful book, with its immense technical accomplishment, and also its penetration, its wisdom and its beauty, we may wonder in what mood of the moment we can have been prompted to call it a failure. By all the rules, still more by the keen interest with which we have read it from start to finish, we should have said success. The reason is suggested perhaps by the manner of one’s praise. Elaboration, skill, wisdom, penetration, beauty — they are all there, but they lack fusion; they lack cohesion; the book as a whole lacks force. Schlegels, Wilcoxes, and Basts, with all that they stand for of class and environment, emerge with extraordinary verisimilitude, but the whole effect is less satisfying than that of the much slighter but beautifully harmonious Where Angels Fear to Tread. Again we have the sense that there is some perversity in Mr. Forster’s endowment so that his gifts in their variety and number tend to trip each other up. If he were less scrupulous, less just, less sensitively aware of the different aspects of every case, he could, we feel, come down with greater force on one precise point. As it is, the strength of his blow is dissipated. He is like a light sleeper who is always being woken by something in the room. The poet is twitched away by the satirist; the comedian is tapped on the shoulder by the moralist; he never loses himself or forgets himself for long in sheer delight in the beauty or the interest of things as they are. For this reason the lyrical passages in his books, often of great beauty in themselves, fail of their due effect in the context. Instead of flowering naturally — as in Proust, for instance — from an overflow of interest and beauty in the object itself, we feel that they have been called into existence by some irritation, are the effort of a mind outraged by ugliness to supplement it with a beauty which, because it originates in protest, has something a little febrile about it.

Yet in Howards End there are, one feels, in solution all the qualities that are needed to make a masterpiece. The characters are extremely real to us. The ordering of the story is masterly. That indefinable but highly important thing, the atmosphere of the book, is alight with intelligence; not a speck of humbug, not an atom of falsity is allowed to settle. And again, but on a larger battlefield, the struggle goes forward which takes place in all Mr. Forster’s novels — the struggle between the things that matter and the things that do not matter, between reality and sham, between the truth and the lie. Again the comedy is exquisite and the observation faultless. But again, just as we are yielding ourselves to the pleasures of the imagination, a little jerk rouses us. We are tapped on the shoulder. We are to notice this, to take heed of that. Margaret or Helen, we are made to understand, is not speaking simply as herself; her words have another and a larger intention. So, exerting ourselves to find out the meaning, we step from the enchanted world of imagination, where our faculties work freely, to the twilight world of theory, where only our intellect functions dutifully. Such moments of disillusionment have the habit of coming when Mr. Forster is most in earnest, at the crisis of the book, where the sword falls or the bookcase drops. They bring, as we have noted already, a curious insubstantiality into the “great scenes” and the important figures. But they absent themselves entirely from the comedy. They make us wish, foolishly enough, to dispose Mr. Forster’s gifts differently and to restrict him to write comedy only. For directly he ceases to feel responsible for his characters’ behaviour, and forgets that he should solve the problem of the universe, he is the most diverting of novelists. The admirable Tibby and the exquisite Mrs. Munt in Howards End, though thrown in largely to amuse us, bring a breath of fresh air in with them. They inspire us with the intoxicating belief that they are free to wander as far from their creator as they choose. Margaret, Helen, Leonard Bast, are closely tethered and vigilantly overlooked lest they may take matters into their own hands and upset the theory. But Tibby and Mrs. Munt go where they like, say what they like, do what they like. The lesser characters and the unimportant scenes in Mr. Forster’s novels thus often remain more vivid than those with which, apparently, most pain has been taken. But it would be unjust to part from this big, serious, and highly interesting book without recognizing that it is an important if unsatisfactory piece of work which may well be the prelude to something as large but less anxious.


Many years passed before A Passage to India appeared. Those who hoped that in the interval Mr. Forster might have developed his technique so that it yielded rather more easily to the impress of his whimsical mind and gave freer outlet to the poetry and fantasy which play about in him were disappointed. The attitude is precisely the same four-square attitude which walks up to life as if it were a house with a front door, puts its hat on the table in the hall and proceeds to visit all the rooms in an orderly manner. The house is still the house of the British middle classes. But there is a change from Howards End. Hitherto Mr. Forster has been apt to pervade his books like a careful hostess who is anxious to introduce, to explain, to warn her guests of a step here, of a draught there. But here, perhaps in some disillusionment both with his guests and with his house, he seems to have relaxed these cares. We are allowed to ramble over this extraordinary continent almost alone. We notice things, about the country especially, spontaneously, accidentally almost, as if we were actually there; and now it was the sparrows flying about the pictures that caught our eyes, now the elephant with the painted forehead, now the enormous but badly designed ranges of hills. The people too, particularly the Indians, have something of the same casual, inevitable quality. They are not perhaps quite so important as the land, but they are alive; they are sensitive. No longer do we feel, as we used to feel in England, that they will be allowed to go only so far and no further lest they may upset some theory of the author’s. Aziz is a free agent. He is the most imaginative character that Mr. Forster has yet created, and recalls Gino the dentist in his first book, Where Angels Fear to Tread. We may guess indeed that it has helped Mr. Forster to have put the ocean between him and Sawston. It is a relief, for a time, to be beyond the influence of Cambridge. Though it is still a necessity for him to build a model world which he can submit to delicate and precise criticism, the model is on a larger scale. The English society, with all its pettiness and its vulgarity and its streak of heroism, is set against a bigger and a more sinister background. And though it is still true that there are ambiguities in important places, moments of imperfect symbolism, a greater accumulation of facts than the imagination is able to deal with, it seems as if the double vision which troubled us in the earlier books was in process of becoming single. The saturation is much more thorough. Mr. Forster has almost achieved the great feat of animating this dense, compact body of observation with a spiritual light. The book shows signs of fatigue and disillusionment; but it has chapters of clear and triumphant beauty, and above all it makes us wonder, What will he write next?

Credits: This article was first published in The Atlantic Monthly (1927)

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Decline of Patriarchy and the Rise of Feminine Energy

Jackie Lopez Lopez

The rose above my head has blossomed and says, “Speak your soul to me.”

The patriarchal aliens have left the planet.
The oceans are emerging out of the sea.
The cosmos is all aglow.
And, many a theatre buff is touching the hem of my garment.
Cinderella found her shoe and decided to swim with the Mermaids.
Snow White became immersed in literature and reads to the 7 Dwarves.
Beauty made her way to the Congo.
Jasmine left Bagdad and made her new address The Magic Carpet.
And, my soul says, “Sing it softly.”
Mother Earth says, “Dance loudly.”

I’ve got a pocket full of envelopes to send letters across the world.
I’ve got a computer and a surprise email account.
I’ve got misbehavior and a lot of gumption.

The angels are playing our song.
And, I hear it.

The men have started wearing mini-skirts.
The women have started to paint.
And, the arrow shot by the Goddess is resounding all over the world.
Robin Hood’s wet dream has come alive.
A lover speaks through the drum.
And, social change is whispering in the winds.
Pyramids have been found underwater.

Feminine energy is climbing the kundalini of humanity.
We feel love, compassion, and intuitive wisdom.
Many of us are finding each other.
Many of us are afraid.
Many of us long for your embrace.
Christ consciousness has become an adulteress, and Mary Magdalene has returned.
“Kiss me on the lips,” she says, “For you never know when your story will be read.”
Patriarchy is eroding at the seams, and love is exploding into streams.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Word Troubles

Kathryn A. Kopple 

                The standard question asked of a writer is the when question.  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?  In an interview published in The Paris Review, Susan Sontag remembers making copies of her writing and selling them for five cents when she was nine.   Francine Prose asks the when question of Lydia Davis in a Bomb magazine interview.  Davis traces her yen to write to age twelve.  In an Amazon interview, J.K. Rowing recalls that she was six when she wrote her first story.   Dani Shapiro tells Rumpus that he was a kid when he started keeping journals.  Junot Díaz , Salman Rushdie, Gabriel García Márquez have discussed how they started to write at a young age.  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?  As a child comes the answer.  We hear it so often that it takes on the quality of a mythos.  Writers start young. They possess an inner creative gift.  They are born writers.
                 As a kid, words never held my attention.  They seemed to come out of nowhere.  Holding a pencil just didn’t feel right.  Syntax didn’t exist for me.  The arrangement of words on a page passed me by or, rather, I bypassed it.  I had no sense of direction.  Right, left?  Who knew you didn’t write up and down?  Who cared?  I had what you might call graphic apathy.  I could speak, and a lot too.  My speaking skills were quite developed.  I was fluent in chit-chat.  Talkative.  If ever there were a village prattler, it would be me.   In stark contrast to my loquacious tendencies, writing made me miserable.  Transferring my thoughts to paper was punishing, not to mention superfluous.   What is it do writers do if not transfer thoughts to paper? 
                Deficits in one area usually result in compensation of some kind or other.   I could scarcely hold a crayon but my visualization skills were off the charts.  Images formed in my head the way a passerine bird takes flight; quickly and without effort.  My mind was full of colorful, intricate images.  We all possess an “inner eye.”  And mine was in over-drive.  It recorded and invented, copied and embellished.  Scientists call this manufacture of imagery “picture thinking.”  For the picture thinker, images speak louder than words—and I mean, really loud.  Often, I found myself scouring books, flipping page after page, in search of a drawing that didn’t exist.   I spent a lot of time that way:  imaging my way through books.

                Because what use is a book without pictures?  Alice (in Wonderland) asks this question before the White Rabbit runs by and she goes down the rabbit hole. To see those words, even now as an adult, means a great deal to me; they make me feel completely understood. There exists another little girl who gets her words mixed up and for whom words unleash chaos, nonsense; a girl who prefers pictures to the written word.  The depth of my gratitude to Lewis Carroll can never be measured.  What use is a book without pictures?  How true is that?
                For some.  Most children begin writing around six years-old.  I was closer to eight—okay, nine.  Up to grade nine, no one “pushed” me, as my dad would say.  He advocated a holistic learning approach with respect to my writing aversion.  He had abiding faith in the powers of intuition and creativity.  His faith never faltered.  After all, we had writers in the family.  Louis Untermeyer was said to be a distant relative.  My great uncle published a mystery about New York’s Diamond District.  The novel was called Florentine Finish.  It won the Edgar.  It was his second novel.  His first book was The Priceless Gift, a book about culture and education that continues to be translated the world over.  And there were other brilliant people in our family:  an opera singer, a Julliard graduate, an actress, a valedictorian, and so on.  My father could paint, play the piano, and write poetry.  My mother was also an artist.  She painted landscapes and my father painted horses.  My sister was adept at glissandos on the piano when she was four.  She is now a master pianist.  With a family like that, writing should be a snap.  I could get myself up to speed when I was ready.  “Don’t push her.”
                 So no one did.  As long as I sat quietly in the back of the class, my teachers let me do my own thing.  They wanted me calm, not poking other students with a pencil.  They needed me quiet, not shredding my worksheet.  I boiled over a lot. There were the days in which boredom colluded with frustration like a pair of arsonists causing all kinds of flare-ups.  Acting-up resulted in hall detention.  I would be ordered to stand outside the classroom until the bell rang. After several hall detentions, the advantages of placidness became more apparent.  I settled down, withdrawing as far as I could into my world of daydreaming and reverie. 
                Until, the halt-screech of reckoning intervened.   The middle school guidance counselor called my parents and they had a conversation.  Specifics are lacking but conjecture tells me whatever the guidance counselor told them about me wasn’t pretty.  I couldn’t read much.  I certainly couldn’t write.  Ergo, I was kind of stupid.  They talked about kids like that back then: dull, stupid, retarded.  The administration may have decided to place me in a class with other children who fit the description.  I have this picture in my mind of spending a day in a dark room with three desks, two other students, and cleaning equipment.  I had never seen the other students before.  Maybe they lived there?  Or maybe someone figured they were too dangerous to let out?  The broom closet was as good a place as any to store bad kids.  I sat down at the desk.  Ms. whoever the teacher was shut the door behind her.  She was now a shadow.  She was a shadow among other shadows.  The ghostly students did their work.  No-one looked in my direction.  I had been instructed to ignore them.  Keep my eyes on the paper in front of me.
                And I obeyed.  In retrospect, the shadows, the other students, the silence could be something I made up, something less gothic.  The teacher may have taken me out of class for testing, together with a few other students.  Testing is a psychological trip-switch that changes sharply the atmosphere of the everyday classroom.  On test day, books get put away, replaced by sheets of multiple choice questions.  Everyone holds a sharpened Number 2 pencil. There is that taut silence that comes over a courtroom right before the verdict is read.  Guilty, not guilty.  Smart, not smart.  For me—and for many children—quizzes are a form of interrogation.  Stress could explain the ghosts in the broom closet.  I repeatedly conjure this image to cope with feelings of intense failure and humiliation.  I can hear Freud now: Why, Dr. Kopple, unpleasant memories are the product of an unfulfilled wish originating in childhood of an undoubtedly sexual nature.  In other words, because I was often humiliated as a young girl, I grew up to expect and even like being humiliated. Or, perhaps school really was a nightmare for me?
                Or rather, the special education classroom.  I wasn’t going to be there for long, not if my father had anything to do with it. He would force me to read and write my way out of the broom closet.  Mere words would not lock me in.  No author was beyond reach.  I was getting out.  And my father was going to break me out by any means necessary.  Not one day in the future but right there and then.  By the time he was finished with me, I would be able to read everything from Chaucer to Henry James.  I would go from broom closet to the front of the class. My father would see to it.  Enough already with the hands-off, gentle approach. He would use the direct method.  Sit down, shut up, and read.   Zero tolerance for laziness, whining and defiance.  I was living under a hyper-totalitarian literary regime.  Obedience to authority wasn’t the half of it. Lack of comprehension, mistakes in pronunciation, poor hand-writing skills were no longer tolerated.   Let’s just say, my father came down on me like a stack of books.
                It was a terrifying apprenticeship.  It would be lovely to think that, however awful it was, I discovered that I was brilliant at language. My father may have hoped for such a discovery.  But, it was a secondary hope: his primary goal was to prevent the school from having me diagnosed with an intellectual disability.  My father grew up in an era in which eugenics made a formidable impact on society.  He grew up hearing that society would be so much better off without “imbeciles.”  In Georgia, where he was born, eugenics was taught in science class, and in most other states.  Marriages between persons deemed “unfit” were illegal.  Forced sterilization was a common practice.  “No child of mine,” he would say in the grimmest of voices. No child of his would be tossed aside, stigmatized, victimized.
                And I wasn’t.  Many tears later, combined with a near hatred of my father, I could read.  One day, after months of going out of my way to avoid him, he approached me.  He had a book in his hand, which certainly didn’t make me happy.  “You would like this,” he said.  The book happened to be Alice in Wonderland.  It was the first book I read cover to cover on my own.  I read it not once, not twice, but over and over.  To this day, I can still recite The Jabberwocky.  After that, I no longer read for my father.  The dead page—messy with words too long, too short, too many—came alive.  Now, I read out of curiosity and for the joy books gave me. Reading, as Jorge Luis Borges once said, was a kind of paradise. 
                Things got better at school.  My teachers never saw me as much of an achiever.  I was no longer seen as a slow learner.  Teachers now considered me lazy.  I remember my high school biology teacher turned to me once and said: “You will never use half your brain.” Oddly, I took it as a compliment.  It takes some intelligence to get by on half a brain.
                So, I got by, and at times quite well.  Talking books one day, I remarked to a friend from college that I was reading Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus.   She grew serious, pausing before she explained that books like Dr. Faustus were not simply read; they were taught.  According to her, I was in over my head.  But, I made it through.  Whether I emerged a better writer for it, I have no idea.  Mann is a hard act to follow. 
                Particularly, for someone like me. Words still turn into pictures.  I have a true knack for staring into space.   My hand-writing is about as legible as a doctor’s prescription.  Putting words to paper is like pulling back a dark curtain only to find another dark curtain behind it until I begin to see what it is I am working on.  It’s always been this way.  I was born like this.  To write my way out of the dark.   

Monday, August 7, 2017

Word, Sound, and Power on the Border

Jackie Lopez Lopez

I never hold a grudge against emancipators.
It is only the coyotes who charge an arm and a leg and a RAPE that get to me.
Freedom is in the eyes of the children, but we swear freedom is found somewhere else.
We cling to our walls because we are afraid of snowflakes stealing our snow.
The border is made for killing and first it killed the land.
We are on the cutting edge of injustice and some of us are proud.
We kill as though the word “illegal alien” makes sense.
The Warriors of the Rainbow are on the border and they are shamans.
I shine my light like a Guatemalan girl and like a Puerto Rican father.
I pay my respects to Earth Mother.
Corporate welfare fathers are alarmed.
NAFTA never confused me nor does Fascism.
We the People of the Entire World are sick and tired of the post-colonial enterprise with its trickle-own effect misinformation.
We know:
Divine justice can be found in a bar and that
child molestation can be found in a church.
A cathedral is a cover placed over a pyramid.
They give us the cross so that we can take crucifixion like a good robot.
I am seeking the warriors of the rainbow:
If you find yourself asking whether you are out of your mind in this godforsaken land,
then come find me.
A tempestuous storm has hit this border town.
The poor quarters are looking livelier these days.
Word, sound, and power can be heard coming out of a samba band.
And the joy has become some sort of social movement.
The Warriors are calling it Chicana Jazz.

Friday, August 4, 2017


David Streitfeld

As a 7-year-old girl, Dorothy West read a poem celebrating the last leaf on a tree and its proud but solitary fate. Right away, little Dorothy made a plea: Don't let that happen to me. I don't want to be around after everyone I love is dead.

Eighty-one years later, it's safe to say her wish didn't come true. Every tribute to West these days, and there are many, notes that she is the last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance, the first significant black literary movement in American history.

At its most self-conscious, the goal of the Renaissance was nothing less than a transformation in racial relations. Black life would be depicted in such a way as to offer what the movement's impresario Alain Locke called "a new judgment and re-appraisal of the race."

That dream was ruined by the Depression; its final death knell was the 1935 Harlem riot. West was one of the last believers, but in 1943 she moved to this island, where her family had always kept a vacation cottage. She published one novel, "The Living Is Easy," did filing and billing for the local newspaper, and during the summers worked as a restaurant cashier. She disappeared into history.

"The Wedding" brought her out again. Published in February, this story of an upper-middle-class family's tangled history has gone through 10 printings. Oprah Winfrey optioned the film rights. Reviewers, mindful of the instinct to overpraise a late-blooming octogenarian, have acclaimed the novel anyway. A follow-up volume of short stories and essays, "The Richer, the Poorer," has just been issued, which means the hoopla will continue through the summer.
Not to mention the visitors. West was out doing a little shopping one recent afternoon, a journey she made with the assistance of a taxi. She was in the grocery store, looking through the vegetables and minding her own business, when the daughter of a friend happened by. This woman had two friends of her own in tow, and they all ended up taking West back to her house and talking to her for a spell, and now they're inviting her out to dinner. At this rate, they'll be here the whole weekend.

In the midst of all this chat, the writer notices a new figure in the doorway. It's someone else who wants something -- in this case, an interview. "I'm doing an interview today?" she asks in disbelief.
Well, supposedly. It was confirmed just a few days ago.

"This isn't May yet, is it?"

It's May. Mid-May, in fact.

"Oh my God." But then she brightens, realizing she can use the interview as an excuse to get rid of her other visitors.

Since West is defenseless here, such maneuvers are essential. There is no assistant to bar the door, and the house is too tiny to hide in. She is alone, and has been for a long time.

"I always wanted children," she says. "But I did not want to get married and have to nurse a man, because I've seen that. The man becomes the woman's child. I remember one day seeing a mother in a store, I didn't know her from a hole in the wall, she had a little girl and a little boy, and the little girl was walking off all by herself and the little boy was clinging to his mother. All right. And there comes one day when he doesn't want to speak to her because he's embarrassed to have a mother. What's wrong with him? Nothing wrong with having a mother!"

This is delivered in a forceful, even urgent tone. West looks like she weighs less than the combined total of her three cats, but there's nothing slight about her lungs. Her conversation is elliptical, with a fondness for abrupt changes in direction.

When she digresses, which is often, it is to return to the theme of "The Wedding": how gradations in skin color among blacks affect their dealings not only with whites but with one another. West's mother, Rachel, was so light-skinned she grew up having to fight the darker kids who called her "yaller punkins" -- as if, West once wrote, "yaller was the ugliest color in the world."

"I get so tired sometimes of darker people saying, Who do lighter people think they are?' " the writer will say four times during the afternoon. "Do you follow what I'm saying? All right."

Dorothy was an only child, but grew up in a house with cousins whose hues varied sharply, from fair to dark. Instead of trying to hide the differences, Rachel would highlight them by dressing everyone the same. "Come on, children," she'd say. "Let's go out and drive the white folks crazy." Renaissance Years The members of the Harlem Renaissance were outsiders two and three times over: blacks in a white world, artists in a society that didn't care much about art, and some were homosexuals. For a few years before the Depression, they joined together in a loose confederation that produced a number of enduring works in a wondrous fire burst of creativity. It was a marvelous first act, but for many of the writers it was followed by silence, despair, anguish and a miserable death.

James Weldon Johnson, author of "The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man," died in an automobile crash. Nella Larsen won prizes for her first two novels, was accused of plagiarism and never wrote again. Wallace Thurman -- editor, novelist and social center of the Renaissance -- died of tuberculosis at age 32, his end purposefully hastened with alcohol. Jean Toomer, whose collection "Cane" is now recognized as a major work of American literature, spent the next 40 years trying and failing to get published again. Zora Neale Hurston, recently enshrined in the authoritative "Library of America" series as one of the country's very best writers, died so poor and forgotten she was buried in an unmarked grave.

West has had a much happier life. Prim and low-key Boston, where she was born and grew up, was a long way from New York in the 1920s, and West might never have made the journey if her aunt hadn't bought a subscription to the Crisis, the NAACP magazine. "I remember my mother saying, Why did you bring that magazine in where these children can see it, and learn about the lynchings and all these things?' But if it hadn't been for my aunt bringing that magazine in, do you understand what would have happened?"

We wouldn't be here together.

"That's right."

Intrigued by the Negro Arts Movement the magazine was promoting, West left Boston University and set off for New York. Before she was 20 she tied Hurston for second place in a literary contest run by the other prominent black magazine, Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. That story, "The Typewriter," launched West, and she soon found herself in the literary whirl. The youngest member of a movement that was entering its golden age, West was more like the mascot than a full-fledged participant. Langston Hughes dubbed her "the kid." She remembers sitting on the floor with her mouth shut, listening.

"The Harlem Renaissance? We never even heard the words. We were all single, we were all young -- the oldest was 30, which seems terribly young to me now. We were all on our own."

And penniless. West calls it "the great sponge era": You happened to be at your friends' when they were having dinner, or late at night got too tight to go home.

In memory, at least, it was a marvelous era. Unlike within other literary movements, everyone was friendly and encouraging. Countee Cullen, the precocious poet who got, at a mere 25, one of the first Guggenheim Fellowships given to an African American, was so impressed with West that he proposed marriage.

"I think it was because I was a virgin," West says. "The reason I didn't want to marry him -- well, I wasn't in love."

(It's a good thing she didn't marry Cullen. The poet had homosexual inclinations, which his father figured would be eliminated by a good wife. Yolande Du Bois accepted Cullen's proposal. Their union, which lasted less than a year, was probably never consummated.)

Instead of becoming a teacher's wife, West began the magazine Challenge in 1934 to help keep the ideals of the Renaissance alive. Three years later, with the assistance of Richard Wright, she started New Challenge. It faltered when West disagreed with Wright's extreme leftist politics.

By this time, no one believed any longer in the power of literature to change America. Many members of the Harlem Renaissance didn't even want to keep writing. Wallace Thurman had earlier pondered his friends' and his own modest output, wondering whether it was "the result of some deep-rooted complex or merely indicative of a lack of talent."

West, who has been no more productive than Thurman despite having lived almost three times as long, has other explanations. After "The Living Is Easy" appeared in 1948 -- a picture of upper-class black Boston, it's considered a worthy work if not quite as good as "The Wedding" -- she started another novel. After the first 50 pages, she submitted it to publishers. No one wanted it.

"People say, You didn't write another book.' Yes, I wrote another book, but no one would buy it. It's not peculiar to black writers. There are many white writers, I'm sure, who went through that same sort of thing."

Instead, she wrote short stories on a regular basis for the New York Daily News -- fiction in which the characters betrayed no hint of color. She wrote occasional pieces for the Vineyard Gazette. At some point, she began "The Wedding," although it's unclear when.

A fortuitous meeting with the most famous resident of Martha's Vineyard, Jacqueline Onassis, resulted in a contract for the book. During the summers of '92 and '93, Onassis -- an editor at Doubleday -- would visit West every Monday, taking away the latest chapter and cajoling the author to carry on. "The Wedding" is dedicated to her memory.

Thulani Davis, a novelist and essayist who talked to West this spring in the hope of writing about her, argues that she shouldn't be seen as a missed chance to be Langston Hughes -- one of the few members of the Harlem Renaissance who went on to become a major artist.

"The evidence doesn't suggest that's what she wanted," Davis says. "She was a loner, content, self-sufficient. She lived without the need to be rich or famous, without those drives that are so typical of writers. There's something very modest about her writing world."

And her life as well. West's house is near the edge of the town of Oak Bluffs, the longtime hub of black life on the island. You turn off the main road, turn off the side road and end up on a dirt track. There are a number of cottages and modest houses here, all laid out haphazardly around a grassy rectangle. The ocean is just a stroll in one direction and the town a short walk in another, but both seem a long way away.

West's tiny living room looks as if she were in the middle of moving in, or maybe moving out. Boxes are everywhere, and piles of material. Her chair and the chair for a visitor are practically the only uncluttered spots. Pinned to her sweater is a key. She started keeping it there after locking herself out during a shopping trip. ""When you live alone, there's no one to open the door," West says. "This beautiful woman in the taxi had to climb in my window."

West is surprisingly spry; she probably could have climbed through the window herself. She credits her parents for her general good health, and much more besides. Her father was born a slave in Virginia. As a boy in Boston, he would go down to the markets to get produce for his mother, a cook. At age 10, he decided to start his own business. Eventually, he became the first black wholesaler in the Boston central market. "Imported and Domestic Fruits and Vegetables, Bananas a Specialty," read the sign. They called him the Black Banana King.

The writer pauses in her narrative. "The reason I'm saying this is 'cause I get so tired of these young black people saying, I can't be anything because I'm black.' They drive me crazy. They wouldn't be here if they didn't have strong ancestors." Shades of Black

At one point in "The Wedding," Shelby Coles, a young woman who is causing an uproar by marrying a white musician, remembers how as a 6-year-old she wandered away from the house and got lost. An alarm was raised, but none of those looking for a missing kid thought the light-skinned Shelby was it. "They were looking for a colored child, which meant they were looking for what they knew to be a colored child -- dark skin, dark hair and Negroid features."

Several white women who saw Shelby debated whether she was the missing child. They decided to ask her, although not without reservations. "Suppose she isn't?" wondered one mother. "It might leave a scar." But finally she said, "Tell me, little girl, and don't be afraid. Are you colored?"

Shelby didn't know. The next question was easy. "Are you white?" Shelby looked at her hand. When it was clean, it was white, so she said yes.

Eventually, Shelby arrived home again. Her neighbors were bitter that none of the white islanders identified her. "They must think they're God, that nobody can look like them but them," said one.

Skin color blinds some of the blacks as well as the whites. Lute, a financially successful but crude businessman, wants Shelby because her light skin will provide his entree into white society. Shelby's sister Liz had eloped with "a dark man and given birth to a daughter tinged with her father's darkness," horrifying their parents. Also living with the family is their 98-year-old grandmother, a white woman who has been forced to "live black" all these years and resents it.

"The Wedding" takes place on a summer day four decades ago, but it reaches back centuries to encompass all the unions that have led up to this point. In the end, Shelby delivers the moral: "Color was a false distinction; love was not."

West practices what she preaches. Here on the island, she says, "We live in harmony. Color is nothing when you know people."

Such a benevolent message accounts for part of the unexpected success of "The Wedding." Harlem Renaissance historian David Levering Lewis compares the current celebration of West to the Delany sisters, the two centenarians whose brief books of wisdom have been cultural phenomena. "It's the celebration of success stories that are not threatening but inspiring -- that leave us with a good taste in our mouths in the matter of race."

Thulani Davis adds that one of the most valuable things about the novel is its portrait of the black middle class.

"We need as many of those as we can get," says Davis. "The complexity of our universe is generally not reflected in the mainstream media, where blacks are usually viewed as working class, unemployed, troubled by pathologies. For me, all the pieces of the pie help give a more rounded view of our world." Matter of Control Late last fall, Henry Louis Gates Jr. went to see West. Gates is both the country's leading scholar of African American literature as well as a longtime summer visitor to Martha's Vineyard, which means his interest in her is both personal and professional. "As black people say, We been knowing each other for a long time,' " says the Harvard professor.

Gates brought with him the bound galleys of "The Wedding," the version of the book that was sent out to reviewers about three months before publication. West was astonished to see them. "There can't be galleys yet," she said. "I haven't finished the book. It doesn't have an ending."

"Yes, it does," said Gates.

"No, it doesn't," said West.

Time for a reality check, thought Gates. He read her three passages from early in the novel. In each case, West could tell him exactly what happened in the previous and the following scene. Then he read her a portion of the novel's conclusion. She said she didn't write it.

Back at Harvard, a disturbed Gates contacted Doubleday. He was a little uncertain exactly what was going on -- rigorously questioning someone nearing her tenth decade can be an exercise in frustration -- but he didn't want West's first novel in 47 years published with a text that was not her own. He assumed that Doubleday had simply tired of waiting for her to finish, so an editor had "helped" her.

From here, matters got more bizarre. Gates said the publisher first attempted to brush him off with such assertions as "she cashed the check, so she must approve of it" and "she's not remembering correctly." He got her an agent and, for the legal side, a professor at Harvard Law. His biggest weapon was a threat to go public. "Scholar Accuses Publisher of Exploiting Oldest Living Black Novelist" is not a headline any publisher would want to see.

Disputes between editors and writers over what to include occur all the time, of course. But they have a particularly sorry history with African American writers. In 1940, the Book-of-the-Month Club would take Richard Wright's "Native Son" only if the hero's sexual feelings about a white woman were removed. Four years later, the club refused to take Wright's autobiography until the last section, dealing with his time as a communist, was lopped off. Zora Neale Hurston had the political material edited out of her autobiography, "Dust Tracks on a Road." It happened all the time.

"Here is the oldest living person in the tradition I teach, telling me she had lost control of her text," Gates said. "It was a nightmare come alive."

Eventually, Doubleday capitulated. The publication date of "The Wedding" was pushed back a month. The book's publicist, a young black woman with whom West had become friendly, flew here, and so did Gates. "Dorothy got this burst of energy and creativity, and in a remarkably short time rewrote the whole chapter," the scholar says.

The two versions of the ending of "The Wedding" are sharply different. When asked by a reporter why the ending had changed, Doubleday assistant editor Scott Moyers said West had merely decided to do some last-minute rewriting.

Later, spokeswoman Ellen Archer clarified things. Moyers, she said, "visited West many times. He stitched together the last chapter using her original outline, hours of transcribed tapes and her written notes." The finished manuscript was then sent to West, with instructions to make any changes she wished.

"She called us a week before Gates called," said Archer. "At that point, we put on the brakes and said, Fine, we'll publish the book the way she wants.' "

When Gates heard this, he became angry. "That's total {expletive}. That's a lie. That's slimy."

In a phone conversation last week, West was unable to shed much light. Asked about the changed ending, she talked instead about how much the novel had taken out of her. "I will never be the same," she said in her rapid-fire way. "I gave so many hours to that book, I didn't take my daily walk. I'm an old lady, as you know." She did, however, have one request that came through quite clearly. "You will be kind?"

A Love Story

By Jackie Lopez Arshile Gorky Our soul split apart at birth, and we behaved most mischievously: You were a man ...