There are many good things about writing and publishing a book. The most important is that you get something off your chest or heart or out of your soul that you really wanted, even needed, to get off. There is the double gratification of finishing a long, difficult project and knowing others read and react to your ideas, thoughts, expressions.
But one of the things I really enjoy that comes with the release of a new book is the book tour and book readings. In the course of the tour you do local media interviews, meet wonderful new people, see big chunks of America, and of course, book readings. I have done book readings in a Finnish social hall, in the Iron Range of Minnesota, lots of union halls across America, lots of hotels holding union conventions, twice at Garrison Keillor‘s book store in Minneapolis, libraries, Labor Day festivities, small book stores and large, the homes of average people.
But my favorite book reading was Sunday, July 8th at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. City Lights was founded and is still owned by the influential poet of the beat generation, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. His peers who frequented his bookstore and wrote for his press included Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy, and many others. Together they, other writers and musicians like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Buddy Rich; broke the bounds of artistic form to create improvisational, freestyle art that allowed the artist to empty his soul into his horn or the typewriter. Together, the Beats broadened American freedom into art.
So as one who celebrates breaking all shackles including the shackles of art, and who celebrates art that comes from the grit of everyday life and in turn, is delivered back to the people from whence it came, I was in awe of doing a reading of my new book, Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing at City Lights.
The house was full with long-time activists and writers and poets like Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Alice Rogoff, City Lights staff, one of my best friends, and one of America’s best organizers Peter Olney, of the West Coast Longshoreman, and lots of young organizers and activists.
Most of my readers know that I try hard to write free-verse poetry about our struggle for a more Just America, and our common search for love and meaning in our lives, and of course, the inevitable heartache that comes with sucking the marrow out of life. Thank God for all those who broke down barriers to art: the Beats, the folkies like my friends Si Kahn and John McCutcheon, the blues men and women from the Mississippi Delta and Chicago like Muddy Waters, B. B. King, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin’ Wolf, Pinetop Perkins, the accessible novelists of the thirties, forties, fifties, including Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck, the soul men and women from Stax Records in Memphis including Otis Redding and Sam and Dave and Iassic Hayes, rockers from where I am from in Memphis and rural West Tennessee like Elvis and Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash from the Arkansas Delta and Jerry Lee Louis from Mississippi.
And thank God for the workers and down and out and regular folks whose daily struggles inspire me to try and the others to succeed in turning those struggles into art that keeps us going, fighting for better lives, and love and a more just America.
Stewart Acuff is America’s best-known and foremost labor organizer. He is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work, coauthored by Dr. Richard Levins.Tags: acuff, city lights, city lights books, city lights bookstore, Garrison Keillor, Playing BIgger Than You Are, Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, roxanne dunbar-ortiz, stewart acuff