By Taylor Lewis

A little more than a year ago, I stood in front of a middle school class, deep in the Upper Normandy region of France. I was there as a kind of American cultural ambassador and so the first thing—the most obvious thing—that I thought to teach my students about was American politics. My country had become a twisted reality show for the rest of the world and my job, I felt, was to explain the insanity to these 13- and 14-year olds.

I had them debate. In groups, they took on the candidates’ roles and vied to become president of the United States. Afterwards, we discussed what the kids had learned and what they thought.

Why do people like Trump?

Why do people hate Trump?

Who will win?

Clinton, I would reply. Bush maybe. Forget Trump.

If someone had said to me seven years ago that I would be where I am now, that the country would be where it is now, I would be heartbroken—and yet hopeful. In seven years my country has come so far, and despite our present state, has so much farther to go.

A little more than seven years ago, The Writer’s Bloc was conceived in the basement of Dorchester Hall, then the home of the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House. I stood in front of my fellow writers and asked for names for a publication that I was creating to promote news about the writing and arts community on campus.

THE WRITER’S BLOCK!

I don’t remember who shouted out the name, but it was perfect—simple and memorable. But it needed something to make it stand out just a bit more.

“The absent ‘k’ was not implied, but deleted by myself. I happen to be a big fan of Russia/the Soviet Union, but I only went through with it because of one of its definitions: ‘a combination of persons, groups, or nations forming a unit with a common interest or purpose,’” I wrote, in the very first post on our site.

Since then, it has evolved in ways I could have never imagined. From Writers’ to Writer’s; from a focus solely on arts and writing to music and blogs and activism. The staff has grown exponentially from the few of us who started it, and though I haven’t met many of them, every new generation carries on the legacy, making it bigger and better.

I’ve watched this growth from across two oceans, first from France and now from Hawai’i. In that time, I’ve also been proud to see how my country evolved under Barack Obama. As a bisexual African-American woman, the highs felt so high, and the lows not so low. My heart grieved for Trayvon and Sandra and Charleston, and then was soothed by the voice of my president—a man whose warmth I could feel through my computer screen as viscerally as a hug from my own father. But all parents must let go.

We have been thrust into a cruel world. For almost a decade, we thought we were winning, that we could celebrate progress and hope without fear. But we missed something. There has been countless speculation on what slipped through the cracks. Disaffected voters and white blue collar workers, Citizens United, the new media. The Russians, neo-Nazis, the economy.

The Writer’s Bloc was created to bring to light the artistic voices that, in 2011, felt like they were moving in the shadowy cracks of College Park, and Washington, D.C. I’ve watched the publication explore a greater truth in finding those voices. Artists can discuss and use the theories that are being used to explain why we ended up with the current administration, but for our work, our passion comes down to our individual experiences. We desire to communicate them by experimenting with language and color, bending angles and forms.

We do not take kindly to walls.

As a human being, I truly empathize with those who voted for Trump because they’ve seen everything fall apart around them. How does one, after all, navigate a world that they weren’t prepared for? However, I cannot, and will never forget how those Americans chose to ignore the threats targeted at my people—my friends, my family, my countless brothers and sisters and everyone in between who I have never and will never meet, but who I hold as closely as my president once did me.

I walked with you all on January 21. You may have not seen me on the metro, but here in Honolulu we braved the rain and harsh wind to raise our voices not just against the active threat that this administration presents, but also the passive one that allowed it to take power. I have no doubt that we will walk with you again.

It feels almost impossible to wake up and be forced to confront a government that tries everyday to remind you that you are less than. But I will not abandon the hope that filled me as tears streamed down my face in November 2008. I will not forget the hope that found itself in a hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. And I will never turn on the hope that I held in a classroom full of French middle schoolers.

I am now far away from them, as far as I feel from my home state of Maryland. Inspiration, though, thrives in Hawai’i. It speaks Samoan, Tagalog, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese. It speaks all of these languages and more, but above all, it speaks Hawaiian:

Hawaiʻi Loa, kū like kākou
Kū paʻa me ka lōkahi e
Kū kala me ka wiwo ʻole
ʻOnipaʻa kākou, ‘onipaʻa kākou
A lanakila nā kini e
E ola, e ola e ola nā kini e

All Hawaiʻi stands together, it is now and forever
To raise your voices, and hold your banners high
We shall stand as a nation
To guide the destinies of our generations
To sing and praise the glories of our land

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Taylor Lewis.

Taylor Lewis is the founding editor of The Writer’s Bloc and can be reached at tlewis24@hawaii.edu.

3 comments

  1. The incredible Taylor Lewis eloquently discusses her experiences teaching abroad in France, going to grad school in Hawaii, and the power of writers as activists.

    Back in 2011, at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House, Taylor had the great idea to start up a literary-arts newspaper on campus – what eventually became The Writers’ Bloc. The University of Maryland had niche papers, but nothing like this. I was grateful to be included in starting the paper – and am so proud of what it has grown into.

    Taylor is absolutely right when she says, “We do not take kindly to walls.” We as writers, we as creatives, we as thinkers, dreamers, artists, we as immigrants, we as people of color, we as LGBTQ/queer people, we as disabled people, we as indigenous people/Native Americans, we as people.

    We don’t take kindly to being walled up, walled off, with borders or bans – everything happening now we are actively fighting and speaking up against. And The Writers’ Bloc has always and seems to continue to offer an important space for these writers and artists.

    Thank you, The Writers’ Bloc staff for continuing this legacy of sharing your voices. This is so necessary.

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