Carolina De Robertis, a creative writing professor at SF State was sitting at her desk three days after the election, shocked by the election results and decided the best way to channel her disappointment was to create an anthology of letters of hope.
“I was just thinking hard about what writers could do to contribute to continue the fight for justice and solace for those of us who are progressive, and see the upcoming period of this country as difficult and dangerous,” De Robertis said.
She decided to gather a collection of essays from notable writers and intellectuals across the country. The book will be titled “Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times,” and was sold to Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House, last week.
The book will include essays from three Pulitzer Prize winners – Viet Thanh Nguyen, Jane Smiley and Junot Diaz – as well as essays from the founders of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza.
“The idea behind this book is that they are love letters,” said De Robertis. “Each writer can write to whoever they want. A child, a person of the future, an ancestor, a particular community. And just write messages of love and thoughts for how to continue to burn brightly and continue to work for a better world in these times.”
In order to launch the book, although De Robertis only needed to find 10 contributors for the project within five days, she was able to find 17 authors and is now up to 20 contributors. The list is growing every day.
“At the time I couldn’t offer them money for it. I didn’t have a publisher confirmed. I think we’re entering unprecedented times and there are so many of us who are upset, scared, concerned,” said De Robertis.
De Robertis was shocked by the quick reaction of the authors she approached about the book.
“I’ve been quite floored by the reaction of authors that I’ve reached out to and their generosity in being willing to join,” she said. “Especially since it’s such short notice. I’m giving people only three weeks to write their essays. Which is sort of unheard of in publishing, but these are also sort of urgent times.”
De Robertis said it usually takes years to put together an anthology, but her publisher has committed to releasing the book during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, leaving only a month to finish the book.
Peter Orner, the current chair of the creative writing department, will also be contributing to De Robertis’ book.
“I think that what Carolina’s doing is taking responsibility for who we are and writers can help a little bit to define who we are,” said Orner.
Orner feels that the reflective nature of the book is the right approach to the topic.
“The letters that we are writing are going to be personal and mine are going to be to my kids to try and make them understand what this moment is like for me,” he said. “It’s a hopeful act.”
Bradley Penner, co-editor-in-chief of the graduate student literary journal “Fourteen Hills,” believes writers and artists have an important role to play in creating change. The journal is planning an event at the Starline Social Club January 15 to raise money for organizations involved with progressive movements.
“Silencing ourselves is the first step in them silencing us, so we need to stick together and to continue to speak out, continue writing, continue making art,” Penner said. “Join a local organization that is actively pursuing a world that we want to see and we will fight back against this administration.”
De Robertis named the title of her book “Radical Hope” because she also believes it’s possible to fight back against the incoming administration. She hopes the book can be used as a source of strength during times when people feel depleted by the national situation.
“My hope is to create a volume, a book, that people can keep by their side as an antidote to despair. Because despair paralyzes us, and we need to not be paralyzed right now,” De Robertis said. “We can disconnect, we can unplug, we can take care of ourselves when things get rough, absolutely. But not paralyze and shut down.”
Even though De Robertis is disappointed by the election results, she still believes in the power of the democratic system to defend human rights.
“We do have the democratic system to defend them, but we have to stand up and defend them or else we could lose a lot of the social gains we made over the last 50 years,” De Robertis said. “It’s a vulnerable time, but we’re not powerless.”