Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Event for Grace in April: Save the Date!


Thursday, April 6 at 7 PM - 8:30 PM At the New York Center for Fiction

Sunday, March 19, 2017

New Collection of Grace’s Work


REVIEWS A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry By Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley, Editors FSG It is the early 1930s. A girl in New York City, just tall enough to see over her family’s kitchen table, catches a moment of tacit communication between her parents. The mother pauses in her reading of the newspaper to say to the father: “Zenya, it’s coming again.” Even the young girl, Grace Goodside, knows what “it” means: Hitler’s rise to power. The “again” was more mysterious—more compelling—both for the girl and for Grace Paley, the writer and activist she became, who retold this memory. The 1905 pogroms that killed her uncle and drove her parents from Russia to the United States were only dimly known to her as a child. A penumbral and weighty silence, common to refugees from politically murderous areas of the globe, covered much of the family’s past in the old country. A lesson emerged from that parental shorthand “again”—namely that nothing, even the worst, was entirely new. Politics was a matter of taking the long view and enduring. Paley never forgot the rebuke her parents’ wariness offered to American innocence, but she lived to shatter the silence with the volubility of an American child. From her Bronx childhood to her maturity in Greenwich Village’s radical heyday, lasting to the Vermont retreat of her old age and her death in 2007, Paley was a fearless and unflagging arguer. She was someone who gained energy through the give-and-take of political debate, whose brash, blunt New York manners made the tacit sayable. A co-founder of the Greenwich Village Peace Center and a noted member of the War Resisters League whose pacifism was rooted in a continually evolving feminism, Paley blended the socialism of her secular Jewish upbringing with the unruly passions of the left during and after Vietnam: The civil-rights, antiwar, and environmental movements each counted her as an ally. Much of her arguing happened on the ground—at protests, at the constant meetings that her life as an activist demanded, during visits abroad to nations that her own country was spending its young men and money ravaging. But from the 1950s until the 2000s, much of it also happened in writing: in poetry, in essays and political reportage, and in short stories, where her brilliance found its best outlet. Politics is a matter of taking the long view and enduring. Paley’s oeuvre isn’t large. Years raising children, and many more years as a committed political actor, limited the extended solitude that writing demands. The short stories came out in three books published over two and a half decades, while the essays and poems were scattered over a longer period of time. The career can fit between two covers, as in a multi-genre anthology like A Grace Paley Reader. If the Reader was intended as a memorial, published a decade after her death, it now seems more pressing—a necessary antidote to the current demoralization of the American left and the disorientation of what remains of the country’s center. On the one hand, Paley’s durable, disabused optimism and the resilience of her fiction’s women, “the soft-speaking tough souls of anarchy,” as she called them in the story “Friends,” will catch you up short. On the other hand, so will her wary fatalism, the voice that lingered from her parents, reminding her how “it”—illiberalism, authoritarianism, the scapegoating of the most vulnerable—always might, and usually does, come again. When that happens, as it now seems to be happening, Paley has a way of reminding us how to be stubborn. Paley’s initial stories, slowly written during the 1950s and collected in The Little Disturbances of Man in 1959, received the kind of attention that launches careers. It is not hard to see why. They are masterpieces of voice, stunning ventriloquisms of women who, telling their life stories, refuse to be taken for suckers in a man’s world. A streetwise Russian-Jewish Bronx patois is the general dialect, but every utterance of her characters promises to take an idiosyncratic, poetic swerve. The 14-year-old narrator of “A Woman, Young and Old,” on her mother’s taking a new lover: “Living as I do on a turnpike of discouragement, I am glad to hear the incessant happy noises in the next room.” The middle-aged Aunt Rose of “Goodbye and Good Luck,” remembering taking up piecework flower-making to earn some money as a young woman: “This was my independence, Lillie dear, blooming, but it didn’t have no roots and its face was paper.” With stony bravura, “An Interest in Life” opens: “My husband gave me a broom one Christmas. This wasn’t right. No one can tell me it was meant kindly.” FSG The milieu is the New York City immigrant world that muddled along before and during World War II, and then lurched unpredictably into middle-class prosperity. The voices are unapologetically female, speaking as if woman-to-woman. Men are transients and incidentals, “till time’s end, trying to get away in one piece,” Aunt Rose comments. Crowded multigenerational homes and thin walls make sex a common preoccupation. Patriarchal rules, inevitable and sublimely ridiculous, turn women into rugged survivalists. By 1959 this display of voice—the comedy of white ethnic life—was somewhat recognizable territory. Still, Paley pulled it off with so much panache that it gained her a following. The rueful honesty of her female narrators gave the stories a political charge, but they could be read as merely brilliant, wicked mimicry, a kind of amusing tourism, their feminism latent. Late in The Little Disturbances, however, Paley found the key to transcending comic-ethnic ventriloquism: the recurring character Faith Darwin Asbury. While Paley’s other narrators speak as if unconscious of their picturesque wit, Faith—a single mother of two boys, juggling petit bourgeois drudgery in increasingly bohemian times, putting no stock in men or their work—is her author’s equal. The joke is no longer for the reader; it might even be on the reader. From her first appearance in “Two Short Sad Stories From a Long and Happy Life,” when she names her first and second husbands Livid and Pallid, Faith has a self-awareness that makes it impossible to laugh at her: Truthfully, Mondays through Fridays—because of success at work—my ego is hot; I am a star; whoever can be warmed by me, I may oblige. The flat scale stones of abuse that fly into that speedy atmosphere are utterly consumed. Untouched, I glow my little thermodynamic way. On Saturday mornings in my own home, however, I face the sociological law called the Obtrusion of Incontrovertibles. Faith invites and refuses confidences in the same sentence: “I rarely express my opinion on any serious matter,” she tells us, “but only live out my destiny, which is to be, until my expiration date, laughingly the servant of man.” If the admission seems like a bitter acceptance of things as they are, it is also the beginning of a refusal. It is a bulletin from a developing front. Through faith, Paley discovered her great subject: the evolving political engagement of the generation of women who came of age in the shadow of World War II. The stories Paley wrote after The Little Disturbances are ever more plotless. They are snapshots of female community—in particular, the group of Greenwich Village women early to the postwar quest for feminist consciousness—or, in Faith’s own words, “a report on … the condition of our lifelong attachments.” Paley borrowed the method of linking characters across a story series from Isaac Babel, one of her lodestars. But unlike Babel’s Odessa stories—or, for that matter, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio—Paley’s stories about Faith extend the timescale well into adulthood. Faith and her friends age, shedding lovers and children and parents, and finding new objects for their political passions. It turns out that rather than voice, Paley’s true subject was time. Put another way, her theme was how the ethical aspirations of political life extend over time: how they survive inevitable disappointment; how they steel themselves into endurance. Paley’s second collection, 1974’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, was like nothing else in American writing then. Especially startling was the way the stories handled the question of time. “Faith in a Tree,” one of the volume’s showstopping pieces, starts as a gently meandering account of a Saturday afternoon in Washington Square Park, where Faith observes other mothers, the new generation of fathers performing parental attentiveness, the hesitant mixture of races, the urban gossip and sexual competitiveness. Faith’s voice is mordantly witty but sympathetic. The park is, as she puts it, “a place in democratic time,” and there is love blended with Faith’s quiet acerbity. The story seems for a while like the kind of observational vignette that might have made its way into William Shawn’s New Yorker, a poignant display of modern manners in the style of Irwin Shaw or John Updike—and then the story tears itself apart. A small procession of families enters the park making noise and carrying signs protesting the napalming of Vietnamese villages. A picture of a “seared, scarred” baby is borne aloft. A policeman forces them out of the park. Faith fails to intervene on their behalf; her older son accuses her of timidity. In a moment, everything is different: “And I think that is exactly when events turned me around, changing my hairdo, my job uptown, my style of living and telling … I thought more and more and every day about the world.” The story doesn’t merely explode the comfortable confines of white-collar realism. It refuses the blandishments of postmodern irony, another popular narrative mode in 1974. After all its emotional indirection and leisured byplay, its well-mannered literariness, Faith’s last words register with a stunning, almost embarrassing directness. The story lingers, and then pounces, transformed into a confrontation with a political fact; one moment expands suddenly into years, pulling us into a future of continual preoccupation. More and more, starting in the late 1960s, Paley’s stories worked like this—embedding us in slow daily time in order to confront us, obliquely or directly, with urgent historical time. They depict the frictions of changing social norms, but they also preach, particularly the virtue of endurance. It is Paley’s emotional signature: how to wait patiently, stubbornly, but not passively. “My husband gave me a broom one Christmas. This wasn’t right.” The transformation from the early stories is remarkable, a pivot from wit into something like a steady and intelligent earnestness. Earnestness, above all, is durable. Hate burns itself out and exhausts; indignation yields eventually to acclimatization; hope is bound to be disappointed. Earnestness expects to be around for a while, and knows it won’t have it easy. This is the theme of Paley’s essays, which offer plainspoken accounts of resistance: a jail stint for civil disobedience; a 1969 trip to North Vietnam to escort three American prisoners of war home; protests at the Seneca Army Depot, at the Pentagon, on Wall Street. The essays are not rousing, precisely, or in any way histrionic. They are steely. In their own way they too are about the long game, the lifelong project of change. At the Seneca protest in 1983, Paley, then 60, musters one more act of exhilarating athletic defiance and climbs a fence around the Army depot. She is arrested for it, but claims no special virtue for the effort. “There was a physical delight in the climbing act,” she reports, but I knew and still believe that the serious act was to sit, as many women did, in little circles through the drenching night and blazing day on the hot cement in front of the truck gate with the dwindling but still enraged “Nuke Them Till They Glow” group screaming “Lesbian bitches” from their flag-enfolded cars. There are no easy conversions here, and while Paley has a stern understanding of her political enemies, she refuses to soften into acceptance. Instead she dwells on protracted acts: long, difficult conversations; long, painful vigils; many drenching nights and blazing days without obvious results. They are what the stories give us, fragmented into brief, vivid glimpses. Of the voices of mid-century American radicalism, few could ever make perseverance seem so vital.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Happy Women’s Day 2017














Money for women, not for war.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Still Life: Amaryllis and a Reader


Nora Paley A certain robust beautiful broadcasting flower seems to be attempting to get the attention of the lovely reader.

Mem Fox on being detained by US immigration: 'In that moment I loathed America'














Iwas pulled out of line in the immigration queue at Los Angeles airport as I came in to the USA. Not because I was Mem Fox the writer – nobody knew that – I was just a normal person like anybody else. They thought I was working in the States and that I had come in on the wrong visa.
I was receiving an honorarium for delivering an opening keynote at a literacy conference, and because my expenses were being paid, they said: “You need to answer further questions.” So I was taken into this holding room with about 20 other people and kept there for an hour and 40 minutes, and for 15 minutes I was interrogated.


The room was like a waiting room in a hospital but a bit more grim than that. There was a notice on the wall that was far too small, saying no cellphones allowed, and anybody who did use a cellphone had someone stand in front of them and yell: “Don’t use that phone!” Everything was yelled, and everything was public, and this was the most awful thing, I heard things happening in that room happening to other people that made me ashamed to be human.
There was an Iranian woman in a wheelchair, she was about 80, wearing a little mauve cardigan, and they were yelling at her – “Arabic? Arabic?”. They screamed at her “ARABIC?” at the top of their voices, and finally she intuited what they wanted and I heard her say “Farsi”. And I thought heaven help her, she’s Iranian, what’s going to happen?
There was a woman from Taiwan, being yelled at about at about how she made her money, but she didn’t understand the question. The officer was yelling at her: “Where does your money come from, does it grow on trees? Does it fall from the sky?” It was awful.
There was no toilet, no water, and there was this woman with a baby. If I had been holed up in that room with a pouch on my chest, and a baby crying, or needing to be fed, oh God … the agony I was surrounded by in that room was like a razor blade across my heart. 
When I was called to be interviewed I was rereading a novel from 40 years ago – thank God I had a novel. It was The Red and the Black by Stendhal – a 19th century novel keeps you quiet on a long flight, and is great in a crisis – and I was buried in it and didn’t hear my name called. And a woman in front of me said: “They are calling for Fox.” I didn’t know which booth to go to, then suddenly there was a man in front of me, heaving with weaponry, standing with his legs apart yelling: “No, not there, here!” I apologised politely and said I’d been buried in my book and he said: “What do you expect me to do, stand here while you finish it?” – very loudly and with shocking insolence.


The way I was interviewed was monstrous. If only they had been able to look into my suitcase and see my books. The irony! I had a copy of my new book I’m Australian, Too – it’s about immigration and welcoming people to live in a happy country. I am all about inclusivity, humanity and the oneness of the humans of the world; it’s the theme of my life. I also had a copy of my book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I told him I had all these inclusive books of mine in my bag, and he yelled at me: “I can read!”
He was less than half my age – I don’t look 70 but I don’t look 60 either, I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard. 
They were not apologetic at any point. When they discovered that one of Australia’s official gifts to Prince George was Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, he held out his hand and said: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ms Fox.” I was close to collapse, very close to fainting, and this nearly broke me – it was the creepiest thing of all. 
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I had been upright, dignified, cool and polite, and this was so cruelly unexpected, so appalling, that he should say it was a pleasure. It couldn’t have been a pleasure for him to treat me like that, unless he was a psychopath.
In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous.
Later in the hotel room I was shaking like a leaf. I rang my friend, my American editor and bawled and bawled, and she told me to write it all down, and I wrote for two hours. I fell asleep thinking I would sleep for eight hours but I woke up an hour and a half later just sobbing. I had been sobbing in my sleep. It was very traumatic.
After I got back to Australia I had an apology from the American embassy. I was very impressed, they were very comforting, and I’ve had so many messages of support from Americans and American authors. 


I am a human being, so I do understand that these people might not be well-trained, but they now have carte blanche to be as horrible and belligerent as they want. They’ve gone mad – they’ve got all the power that they want but they don’t have the training.
They made me feel like such a crushed, mashed, hopeless old lady and I am a feisty, strong, articulated English speaker. I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don’t have my power? 
That’s the heartbreak of it. Remember, I wasn’t pulled out because I’m some kind of revolutionary activist, but my God, I am now. I am on the frontline. If we don’t stand up and shout, good sense and good will not prevail, and my voice will be one of the loudest.
That’s what it has taught me. I thought I was an activist before, but this has turned me into a revolutionary. I’m not letting it happen here. Instead of crying and being sad and sitting on a couch, I am going to write to politicians. I am going to call. I am going to write to newspapers. I am going to get on the radio. I will not be quiet. No more passive behaviour. Hear me roar.
As told to Lucy Clark

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Responsibility

It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
also leaflets you can hardly bear to look at
because of the screaming rhetoric
It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy
to hang out and prophesy
It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes
It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory
towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C
and buckwheat fields and army camps
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet's responsibility to speak truth to power as the
Quakers say
It is the poet's responsibility to learn the truth from the
powerless
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
freedom without justice and this means economic
justice and love justice
It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original
and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it
on in the way storytellers decant the story of life
There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no
freedom unless
earth and air and water continue and children
also continue
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on
this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
listened to this time.

by Grace Paley

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


2016 has had me thinking a lot about Grace Paley. She is probably the most famous writer to be significant in the history of American political activism and the most famous activist to also be significant in the American literary world. She was a master of the short story form—she never published a novel—and wrote with a tough but compassionate eye about women, society and family life. She also protested against nuclear proliferation, against the Vietnam War, and was involved in the civil and women’s rights movements, and once famously described herself as a “somewhat combative pacifist and cooperative anarchist.” Did I mention that she was funny?
There’s been a lot of back and forth about the place of artists and artmaking in the Trump era, but Paley reminds me that a political life and an artistic life and a family life can all be the same thing. Yesterday, December 11, would have been the 94th birthday of the acclaimed short story writer, poet, and activist, so to honor her life and to inspire activism (which I expect will be much needed in the coming year and beyond) in all you writers, I present here a few of her words on social activism, writing, and life.
From an interview in The Paris Review, 1992:
How did you find time to write while raising children, being involved in political activity, teaching?
I wrote at different paces. I wrote my first stories when I was sick and had a few weeks at home. I made a start in a big chunk of time, about three weeks. And after that I just kept going. Sometimes one or the other part of my life would pull me away from writing—the children of course and then the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Having grown up the way I did, it just seemed natural to become involved. That was what the whole country was about. I was often busy with that from morning until night. I couldn’t stand that we were in this war, and I just wrote less. Actually, that isn’t quite true. I wrote leaflets, political reports, articles. And poems. As a matter of fact, my reports following my journey through North Vietnam in 1969 were mostly poems.
A lot of other writers were involved too. There were lots of readings. On the East Coast, Denise Levertov and Mitch Goodman had a lot to do with those events. Angry Arts Week—organized by Artists Against the War—and the Greenwich Village Peace Center are good examples of that energy. Poets rode around the city reading from trucks. Almost any concert that week would begin with a dedication to the war’s end. One particular event—“Vietnamese Life”—focused on ordinary Vietnamese life and culture. No egotism allowed, no, Oh how bad I feel about all of this . . . I remember Hortense Calisher reading Vietnamese stories and Susan Sontag reading Lao Tse. Irene Fornes presented a Vietnamese wedding. Wally Zuckerman, who used to build harpsichords, created the wind instruments used in the windy forest of Indochina.
How important do you think it is for the writer to rise up at moments like that?
It’s interesting for the writer. It’s normal. Of course, it’s hard if you’re in the middle of a book. It’s a question only Americans ask. Is it good? It certainly isn’t antithetical to a passionate interior life—all that noise coming in. You have to make music of it somehow.
Do you think political statements belong in literature? Would you write a novel that was a political tract?
One man’s political tract is another person’s presidential statement—in Czechoslovakia, for example. The word tract is such a bad word by itself obviously one would have to say, No, nobody should write a tract, nobody should do that. But I think that a love of language, truthfulness, and a sense of form is justification enough. Anyway characters in fiction can say anything they want. They’re often quite willful, you know.
From an interview with Poets & Writers, 2006:
Do you think it’s important for writers to be socially active?
Writers? I advocate plumbers should also do something, everybody should do something. When the Iraq War started, Sam Hamill from Copper Canyon Press got all these poets together. Before anybody said a word, he had ten thousand poets writing letters to the White House saying, “Don’t go into Iraq, don’t go in.” The writers were on top of it. I have no complaint about the writers. During the Vietnam War we had something called Angry Arts, which Bob and several other artists organized. For a whole week all the artists performing in concerts at Town Hall and Lincoln Center stopped and got up and turned their backs. Everybody was quiet for several minutes to make the statement we are against this war. Artists were making murals all over the city, and the poets were in trucks driving around reading poems. The artists were present. But everybody should be involved, not just the artists. Carpenters, teachers, everybody.
From an interview with Elizabeth Wachtel, 1988:
Are you conscious of apportioning your time towards writing or political action or happiness?
No, I’m just pulled one way or another: writing, politics, house and family. That’s all right. It’s an idea of life. If you can take it, and you don’t feel guilty. Feeling guilty is what’s wrong. I tend to be pulled without an excess of guilt—just enough so I know something is happening to me. I’m a writer but I’m also a person in the world. I don’t feel a terrible obligation to write a lot of books. When I write, I write very seriously and I mean business. I write as well and as truthfully as I possibly can and I write about the things that have created a good deal of pressure in my head.
And now I will leave you with this poem, one of Paley’s most famous.

Responsibility
It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners
giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets
also leaflets you can hardly bear to look at
because of the screaming rhetoric
It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy
to hang out and prophesy
It is the responsibility of the poet not to pay war taxes
It is the responsibility of the poet to go in and out of ivory
towers and two-room apartments on Avenue C
and buckwheat fields and army camps
It is the responsibility of the male poet to be a woman
It is the responsibility of the female poet to be a woman
It is the poet’s responsibility to speak truth to power as the
Quakers say
It is the poet’s responsibility to learn the truth from the
powerless
It is the responsibility of the poet to say many times: there is no
freedom without justice and this means economic
justice and love justice
It is the responsibility of the poet to sing this in all the original
and traditional tunes of singing and telling poems
It is the responsibility of the poet to listen to gossip and pass it
on in the way storytellers decant the story of life
There is no freedom without fear and bravery there is no
freedom unless
earth and air and water continue and children
also continue
It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman to keep an eye on


this world and cry out like Cassandra, but be
listened to this time.

Emily Temple
Emily Temple is an associate editor at LitHub.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

This from Nora Paley: 
Today is my mother's birthday although she thought it was the 10th for most of her life. In this photo -a march against the Iraq War -she was feeling very weak and very determined though never stopped thinking about the lives of the grandchildren and the beauty of the world.

Sunday, November 13, 2016





















By Kashmir Hill

There is a charismatic man running for president with the slogan, “Help us make America great again.” He calls his enemies rapists and destroyers of the country. His opponent calls him a demagogue, a rabble-rouser, and a hypocrite. His supporters have been known to form mobs, get violent and burn people to death. He condemns the violence but “does so in such mild language that his people are free to hear what they want to hear.”
Meet Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarret, the fictional presidential candidate in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, published in 1998.
Yes, two decades before Trump swept the Republican primaries, black science-fiction writer Octavia Butler wrote about a terrifying politician, “a big, handsome, black-haired man with deep, clear blue eyes that seduce people and hold them.” (So her crystal ball wasn’t entirely accurate; he didn’t have Trump’s red-orange hair.)
The Parable series
The Parable series
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a media inquiry about the origin of the “Make America Great Again” slogan, but Trump has insisted before that he made it up, getting mad when other Republican presidential candidates started using the same phrase last year.
“The line of ‘Make America great again,’ the phrase, that was mine, I came up with it about a year ago,” Trump said in 2015, as quoted by The Hill.
Butler’s book is set in 2032, in an America where resources have become incredibly scarce and the government has all but collapsed with law enforcement looking out only for itself. People live either in walled-in towns, constantly fighting off attacks from drug addicts, religious fanatics and the poor, or live in fear on the open road, trying to make their way to a safer place: Canada or a company town, where they’ll live in safety but as a de facto slave to a corporation. It’s a dystopian primitive future, and the book’s protagonist fears that Andrew Steele Jarret’s election will make it worse.
There are certainly other differences between Jarret and Trump. Jarret’s beef is with Canada instead of Mexico. Instead of business acumen as his main credential, religion is Jarret’s stump. He’s the head of a group called Christian America, which is intolerant of any other religious views, and whose supporters burn “witches”—meaning Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists—at the stake.
It may seem uncanny that Butler predicted the slogan nearly 20 years before Trump literally trademarked it. But that’s because Trump’s slogan isn’t an original one. As Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone last year, saying Trump “must never have heard of Google,” President Ronald Reagan “made ‘Make America Great Again’ a backbone of his campaign.”
Reagan used the phrase before Trump
Reagan used the phrase before Trump
Butler was likely aiming her criticisms at Reagan, whose presidency had recently ended, when she started her Parable series in the early 90s. Unfortunately, I can’t chat with Butler about this because the gifted writer died in 2006.
Instead, we can turn to Butler’s writing to see why she hated the slogan, as it was used then. I suspect she might feel the same way about how Trump is now using it:
Jarret insists on being a throwback to some earlier, “simpler” time. Now does not suit him. Religious tolerance does not suit him. The current state of the country does not suit him. He wants to take us all back to some magical time when everyone believed in the same God, worshipped him in the same way, and understood that their safety in the universe depended on the same religious rituals and stomping anyone who was different. There was never such a time in this country.
In the book, despite being down in the polls, Jarret is elected and his supporters feel empowered to declare martial law, enslaving people who are not Christian Americans. Jarret starts an ill-fated war with Canada, and is not ultimately re-elected.
“The book illustrates what happens when people are emboldened by a demagogue,” said Shawn Taylor, a Butler scholar. She portrayed a “charismatic figurehead who ignites something in people. Trump activated something in people, too. They get permission to act on their worst impulses.”
“The already weakened country all but collapsed,” writes Butler of her future world. Instead of making America great again, Jarret was “bad for business, bad for the U.S. Constitution, and bad for a large percentage of the population.”

for an interview with Octavia Butler, go to http://www.democracynow.org/2005/11/11/science_fiction_writer_octavia_butler_on
By Kashmir Hill

There is a charismatic man running for president with the slogan, “Help us make America great again.” He calls his enemies rapists and destroyers of the country. His opponent calls him a demagogue, a rabble-rouser, and a hypocrite. His supporters have been known to form mobs, get violent and burn people to death. He condemns the violence but “does so in such mild language that his people are free to hear what they want to hear.”
Meet Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarret, the fictional presidential candidate in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, published in 1998.
Yes, two decades before Trump swept the Republican primaries, black science-fiction writer Octavia Butler wrote about a terrifying politician, “a big, handsome, black-haired man with deep, clear blue eyes that seduce people and hold them.” (So her crystal ball wasn’t entirely accurate; he didn’t have Trump’s red-orange hair.)
The Parable series
The Parable series
Trump’s campaign did not respond to a media inquiry about the origin of the “Make America Great Again” slogan, but Trump has insisted before that he made it up, getting mad when other Republican presidential candidates started using the same phrase last year.
“The line of ‘Make America great again,’ the phrase, that was mine, I came up with it about a year ago,” Trump said in 2015, as quoted by The Hill.
Butler’s book is set in 2032, in an America where resources have become incredibly scarce and the government has all but collapsed with law enforcement looking out only for itself. People live either in walled-in towns, constantly fighting off attacks from drug addicts, religious fanatics and the poor, or live in fear on the open road, trying to make their way to a safer place: Canada or a company town, where they’ll live in safety but as a de facto slave to a corporation. It’s a dystopian primitive future, and the book’s protagonist fears that Andrew Steele Jarret’s election will make it worse.
There are certainly other differences between Jarret and Trump. Jarret’s beef is with Canada instead of Mexico. Instead of business acumen as his main credential, religion is Jarret’s stump. He’s the head of a group called Christian America, which is intolerant of any other religious views, and whose supporters burn “witches”—meaning Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists—at the stake.
It may seem uncanny that Butler predicted the slogan nearly 20 years before Trump literally trademarked it. But that’s because Trump’s slogan isn’t an original one. As Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone last year, saying Trump “must never have heard of Google,” President Ronald Reagan “made ‘Make America Great Again’ a backbone of his campaign.”
Reagan used the phrase before Trump
Reagan used the phrase before Trump
Butler was likely aiming her criticisms at Reagan, whose presidency had recently ended, when she started her Parable series in the early 90s. Unfortunately, I can’t chat with Butler about this because the gifted writer died in 2006.
Instead, we can turn to Butler’s writing to see why she hated the slogan, as it was used then. I suspect she might feel the same way about how Trump is now using it:
Jarret insists on being a throwback to some earlier, “simpler” time. Now does not suit him. Religious tolerance does not suit him. The current state of the country does not suit him. He wants to take us all back to some magical time when everyone believed in the same God, worshipped him in the same way, and understood that their safety in the universe depended on the same religious rituals and stomping anyone who was different. There was never such a time in this country.
In the book, despite being down in the polls, Jarret is elected and his supporters feel empowered to declare martial law, enslaving people who are not Christian Americans. Jarret starts an ill-fated war with Canada, and is not ultimately re-elected.
“The book illustrates what happens when people are emboldened by a demagogue,” said Shawn Taylor, a Butler scholar. She portrayed a “charismatic figurehead who ignites something in people. Trump activated something in people, too. They get permission to act on their worst impulses.”
“The already weakened country all but collapsed,” writes Butler of her future world. Instead of making America great again, Jarret was “bad for business, bad for the U.S. Constitution, and bad for a large percentage of the population.”