No matter the restriction, the control mechanism or oppression, PEN America is a platform for authentic stories—voices that ring loud and free on the page.
Jennifer Finney Boylan contributed to PEN’s latest publication Issue: 21 Mythologies, with Transfigured. It connects with incarcerated readers as she writes, “For a long time, I thought I didn’t exist…It was like walking on a long-deserted beach without any footprints.” Searching for identity is not limited to incarcerated people — agency is a normal, human want and need — it’s the desire to exist.
Issue: 21 Mythologies is a powerful collection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, conversations and even a graphic narrative. Each story pulls words and phrases out of the minds of serious thinkers to set the record straight for truth spoken to power.
The anthology opens with a masterful look at the world’s largest democracy, India, and how its fact-twisting government uses “fake news” to antagonize Muslims and Dalit minorities—those who belong “to lower castes, some still considered untouchable by their compatriots.”
Amitava Kumar writes, #Fakenews to point out that “myths function to remove any rational basis for truth; instead they promote blind faith and a vulnerability to rumors.”
In an age where massive amounts of information are available at little or no cost, Western culture is swamped with data manipulators who falsify reality to make a profit.
Issue: 21 Mythologies offers cutting edge stories that can be shared in ordinary conversations for truth seeking.
Kimiko Hahn writes For the Others: A Zuihitsu, which focuses on the concept of the word “other.” When people want to distance themselves from someone, they say, “No, the other guy.” Hahn gives keen examples of the power of myths and fake news by way of “othering.”
Although numerous studies demonstrate that immi- grants are not the criminals conservative politicians claim they are, Hahn quotes what President Donald J. Trump told The New York Times: “Every day, sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities. They’re safe havens for just some terrible people.”
Ursula K. Le Guin (April 2012) wrote, in Having my Cake, “…words, and the uses and misuses of words, and the meaning of words, and how the words and their meanings change with time and with place…”
Le Guin defines the craft of writing as, “If what I do, what I make, is beautiful, it isn’t a physical beauty. It’s imaginary, it takes place in the mind—my mind, and my reader’s.”
I Know the Name of a Man in Prison, by Reginald Dwayne Betts, reads as though he regards every incarcerated person with pure empathy. He understands what it means to be stuffed under the rug. He writes, “As if he wanted to prove God was no myth by returning from the dead. Some men have done that, gone back, again and again and again, to prove that what the others say ain’t true. To prove that mass incarceration is more omen than myth.”
In the 192 pages, stuffed with 43 stories, written by 57 contributors, I flipped back and forth, admiring its pictures and smiles and its confrontation with realism. So with that, I eagerly await PEN America Issue: 22 — will it be Truth?
Juan’s book review