I had the good fortune last night to hear Chris Abani read as part of the Richard Hugo House Literary Series. He wove together scenes from his childhood in Nigeria and London with his reasons for writing--to witness, to share the pain of what it means to be human. I cannot begin to capture what he said, but I hope he publishes what he read so that I can slowly absorb his meaning and keep learning from it. Until then, here's an excerpt from a piece he wrote for Witness Literary Magazine:
To be human requires no action. What is required, though, is harder: the non-judgmental (and I don’t mean non-discerning) daily accounting of our lives and narratives to ourselves. It is owning all the power and privilege we have wielded that day, as well as its true cost. Perhaps this is what makes my work hard, and human—a difficulty I disguise in beautiful language like any good lover knows to do. One of my earliest spiritual advisers told me that to be human is to accept that there will never be world peace, but to live life as though it is possible. This is the core of my aesthetic: belief in a deeper humanness that is beyond race, class, gender, and power, even as I know that it is not possible. And yet I strive for it in every way, even when I fail. In the end, we may never know. Perhaps it is enough, as Emmanuel said, to know that it will always be hard. May we cry, but may we never die of heartbreak.