This project of ArtsEverywhere was developed in response to the widespread failure of nation-states to provide citizenship for those who need it most. Across the globe, in myriad differing circumstances, oppressed ethnic and religious groups, poor people, economic migrants, and those displaced by war find themselves unwelcome in both the nations they come from and the nations to which they flee. Borders are closing. Those crossing them are criminalized. The human need for inclusion and rights inside a jurisprudence that casts us all as equals goes unmet. At the same time, within the borders of nation-states, growing numbers of similarly disadvantaged people lose their rights as citizens every day, when they’re arrested and imprisoned. Despite the infinite variety of these lives, their unique backgrounds and possible futures, the state’s response has become uniform—to withhold citizenship and the rights that go with it. As Hannah Arendt commented when facing her own statelessness, “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion—formulas which were designed to solve problems within given communities—but that they no longer belong to any community whatsoever.” Rejected by the state, the displaced today fall back on the communities that have survived their long journeys and hardships, and, with them, shape what is called a “profane citizenship,” independent of nations.
This series asks whether and how the activity of writing and reading together—especially when protected from the realms of expertise and fact-checkers by calling itself “literature”—can host the gathering of equals that Aristotle calls a “polity,” and grant agency and belonging to the stateless, incarcerated, or disenfranchised.
By “literature” we mean any writing for which every reader has equal authority to make meanings. The shared space of the text is a place of engagement among equals in conflict—readers—with nary a policeman nor sovereign in sight. Even the author gives up her original position as an arbiter of meanings (which she enjoys so long as she is writing) by giving the work to its public in an act called “publication.” This declared equality is precisely—and only—what we claim when we claim that such-and-such is literature. How can we, as writers and readers, find, form, or make a future for the Polity of Literature?
Editor of The Polity of Literature
Trained to be producers and consumers in a marketplace of literature, most writers don’t know how to be citizens of a polity. In the concluding essay of the Polity of Literature series the editor, Matthew Stadler, proposes an experiment to help us: The GOAT PoL (The Geopolitical Open Atlas of The Polity of Literature).
Travis Ray ComesLast committed a terrible crime, but what should happen next? Stories of injury and stories of repair involve us all. We must tell and receive these stories collectively.
In part two, the purposes and ambitions of queer literature change in the ‘80s with the rise of AIDS and a punishing, homophobic backlash. These cultural conditions birthed a new political awareness—one that linked queer communities to other historically marginalized and oppressed people.
In part one of this candid personal memoir, Michael Bronski recalls the birth, life, and future of a queer polity of literature, circa 1964 to 1980.
On a short trip to document the Aramaic revival, Ben Shields gets lost in a story from which there seems to be no escape.
As an introduction to the work of Parwana Amiri, we’re republishing her story, “The Olive Tree and the Old Woman,” and making it available for sale from Publication Studio Guelph.
Having survived Moria refugee camp, Arash Hampay went to Athens to make soup for homeless people. Then he went to Hamburg and made more soup and an art exhibition. What if this is literature? We sent Chloe Ruthven to Germany to find out.
We want to find living examples of a functioning Polity of Literature. A friend suggests, why not look at prison writing?
When an anarchist hosts a blog it becomes a polity. Dennis Cooper’s features literature (and GIF novels).
How will we read and write—how will we make literature—after the global economy has collapsed? Nyasha Bhobo tells us how they get it done in Zimbabwe.
Provoked by blind spots in a recent New York Times piece about “the African literary scene,” Zimbabwean writer Audrey Simango reports on the conditions she finds on-the-ground for millennial African writers today. The conditions look good.
Facilitating a writing group at a temporary emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness during a pandemic has its ups and downs.
The children that poet Robert Glück taught booed the “Poetry Playhouse” and wrote scatological jokes. He asked them for more.
When a resourceful teacher gave a video camera to “the problem kids” they filmed what they knew to be true, and showed it. Now no one can make them stop.
Wanting to help “refugees,” we tell stories of distant disasters and flight and rescue. But what stories do people on the move tell?
In a vibrant urban neighbourhood the loss of a beloved bookshop is always hard to bear—worse when it’s destroyed by enemy missiles.
“I’ve always associated reading and writing with sex,” Edmund White reports.
A Catholic man who loves Morrissey moves to Israel to study writing. Among his neighbours he finds five remarkable people—three students, a teacher, and a rabbi—who show him the ways that young lives blossom and stray among the people of the Book.
A Palestinian girl growing up in suburban Ohio is proud to receive an A- on her 9th grade genocide report. Later, grown up, she asks Can a fact be sad? I wish to know.
When a school is too punishing and racist to teach a child, how will he learn to read and write? Harry Gamboa Jr. shows us how.
Karima Qias was seventeen years old when her family arrived at the Moria refugee camp, on Lesvos Island, Greece. She knew immediately that they had to get out to survive, and this is how they did it.
We seek to learn from the new, but it confuses and offends us. The editor of the Polity of Literature series, Matthew Stadler, reevaluates some key concepts of our project to better hear those from whom we all must learn—the oppressed.
In his lifetime, writer and activist Charles Shively filled his Boston rowhouse with the printed residue of 20th-century queer liberation. His friend Michael Bronski recalls what he found when packing it up for the Beinecke Library archive—poetry at the heart of politics.
Reading between the lines of history, the author finds queer kinship in the literature left behind by his gay ancestors.
The editor of ArtsEverywhere, Shawn Van Sluys, looks at the special features that the comics form brings to politics, and the uses various North American countercultures have made of them.
A scholar and fan of “life writing,” Anna Poletti nails their “Six Theses on Literature” to the door of our Polity of Literature cathedral, asking what paradoxes and contradictions might lie nascent within this project.
Readers who love what they read sometimes become writers of the same stories. They call it “fan fiction,” even if copyright lawyers call the police. Juli Parrish asks what happens collectively when the line between reading and writing dissolves.
This addendum to the Polity of Literature series describes the physical and digital safety considerations for writers planning to report on the 2021 U.S. Presidential Inauguration.
This foundational text of the Polity of Literature series was written by a Jesuit scholar in the long wake of the May 1968 student uprisings.
When unlawfully incarcerated for almost five years, Ahmet Altan daydreamed his way out of prison by recalling the books he’d read and the “Wood Sprites” they contained.
The associations made in lyric reading, between words, images, ideas, silences, gaps, and centuries, form a political space—a polity brought into being by “lyric’s poignancy.”
When the Assad regime in Syria targeted the city of Daraya for its resistance actions, the buildings they bombed held many books. Locals rescued the books from the rubble and made a secret underground public library.
A Rotterdam activist tells the story of his neighbourhood’s recent effort to make its own reading room after the local library branch closed.
In the space of her writing the legendary Kathy Acker found an arsenal of voices that gave her agency and opened readers and writer to a volatile politics. Her biographer, Jason McBride, recalls Acker’s boldest, early efforts.
A polity of literature can assemble in myriad ways and places. American artist and writer, Anne Focke, considers two examples: the “parallel polis” of 20th-century Czech resistance to Soviet domination; and a practice called “the dynamics of difference,” rooted in the work of Native American tribes in the Humboldt Bay area of California.
In Berlin, writer and philosopher Fred Dewey created a functioning polity of literature by inviting small groups of strangers to meet, discuss, and read out loud from Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition.
Turkish artist Erkan Özgen documents a deaf, mute Syrian boy telling the story of what happened to him and others during the war in Syria.
In this addendum to the 14th piece in the Polity of Literature series the British film-maker Chloe Ruthven recalls her work helping teenage Afghani refugees make and circulate their own zine, Plaza Girls.
Lacking other resources, refugees and others on the move often use writing and reading together to site their politics. ArtsEverywhere editor Siddhartha Joag surveys some examples, from Myanmar to Uganda to Norway and Greece.
With examples from his award-winning book, The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt, Polity of Literature illustrator Ken Krimstein tells us how graphic novels and comics can strengthen literature’s capacity to host politics.
The great polyglot writer, Sybille Bedford, was a mid-20th-century fanboy of court trials. This chapter from her underrated 1961 book The Faces of Justice recalls the drama of court proceedings in Munich, Germany.
Artists can stage the encounter of the state with the refugees it presumes to judge. In this searching personal essay, Niels Bekkema, a Dutch artist working with the Polity of Literature series, recalls some of the ways that art and justice intersect and shed light on one another.
This addendum to the 10th piece in the Polity of Literature series describes the unique challenges of queer refugees telling their stories to bureaucrats who do not understand them.
When refugees arrive in Europe they must tell their stories to state bureaucrats who control their fate. But is the state capable of hearing what they have to say?
This addendum to the 8th and 9th pieces in the Polity of Literature links to Megan K. Stack’s New York Times profile of Behrouz Boochani, one of the Manus refugee writers Moones Mansoubi helped.
In 2013, when Australia began to detain refugees in off-shore prisons on Manus and Nauru islands, concerned Australians tried to help those held captive get their stories out. One, a recent immigrant from Iran called Moones Mansoubi, recalls that time and the talented writers she was able to help.
Refugees are often treated like prisoners, yet their stories differ. The editor of the Polity of Literature series surveys recent and past books from both refugees and prisoners to discover the unique insights opened up when refugees begin to write and publish.
This addendum to the 7th piece in the Polity of Literature series republishes the preface to If The Come In the Morning, edited by Angela Davis and Bettina Aptheker.
When Angela Davis was imprisoned on false charges of abetting murder, in 1970, her friend Bettina Aptheker visited her in jail over a year-and-a-half to co-write and co-edit a foundational book of the prison abolition movement, If They Come In the Morning.
In the Terezín ghetto, near Prague, Jewish children later murdered by the Nazis created and shared their own secret “zines,” acting politically in the face of terror and impending death.
In the 1970s American prisons began to allow in-prison writing programs. In the 21st century, with the prison population booming, the American Prison Writing Archive went online to connect incarcerated writers to readers outside.
Prisoners can be voracious readers. Journalist Marta Bausells asked several about their favorite prison reads and the ways that reading grants them agency or belonging.
Turkish courts staged the trial of activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala several times, always returning him to prison despite a variety of outcomes. Simon(e) van Sarloos attended once, and tells us what it’s like when the state scripts our destinies.
While writing and reading, even an imprisoned man can be free. Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan wrote this text during the first of almost five years he spent unlawfully detained in a Turkish prison.
The first piece in the Polity of Literature series examines the ways that literature—the political space of writing and reading—can host the gathering of equals that Aristotle called a “polity,” and grant agency and belonging to the stateless, incarcerated, or displaced.