Whenever I’m in another country, a foreign city, I try to walk around to get the feel, colors, tastes. The last couple of mornings I strolled through the city center of Manchester, an old industrial city—the second or third largest in England, depending on whom you talk to. The hotel I’m staying at abuts a dense dark-green non-flowing river. Across the way are overhead train tracks. It’s an old and modern city at the same time. Last night, I attended a talk on the “Literature of Violence” that featured the British writer, Martin Amis. My friend Josephine Metcalf just gave me a book of his, “Money: A Suicide Note.” The talk was interesting, especially Mr. Amis’s comments, who made things personal by bringing in the recent death of his mother and the sad news that British writer/commentator Christopher Hitchens, Amis’s longtime friend, has just been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. This is devastating news. I’ve read Mr. Hitchens columns from time to time. He’s a recent US naturalized citizen and has begun to take on the terribly narrow and intrepid religious right institutions from a most interesting angle—as a stone atheist. Of course, I don’t agree with everything Mr. Hitchens writes or says, but he’s brave, intelligent, and a breath of fresh air in the current state of commentary in US publications. One of my best friends—I’ve had a few—died earlier this decade of cancer of the esophagus. I know how devastating and quick this disease can damage. My best thoughts go to Mr. Hitchens, his family, friends, and many fans. As for Mr. Amis, I noted a few comments he made about violence in life as in literature. He pointed out that in England, more women from the ages of 16-45 died at the hands of a husband or boyfriend than from any other cause. When, as Mr. Amis, said, “men run out of words” and then their brutish, devastating, total violent aspects of their mislaid masculinity takes over. He talked about the long chain of violence, not just the cycles of violence, that has dominated our world, of the history of wars, conquests, and power that has marked most human existence. And that any achievements wrought by violence will not stand, quoting other thinkers who’ve pointed out how the means defines the ends, distorting and shadowing any possible gains by violence. Soon after two other panelists spoke and this is when I began to drop my head a few times, and once my pen, battling sleep. The jet lag—and the fact I didn’t sleep on the plane flying over—caught up to me. What did I expect? Still, I went out later with my friends, including the activist Barbara Becnel, to a dinner in our honor at the offices/home of SuAndi, a black performance poet. Invited were former gang members and youth leaders working with urban peace efforts in South Manchester. There has been ongoing gang violence in South Manchester since the early 1980s. Most of this is in the immigrant communities, apparently from the Caribbean islands of Jamaica and others like St. Vincent and Trinidad & Tobago. We had an amazing talk about the systemic roots and sources of this violence, and how youth leaders have done most of the peacekeeping (the violence is in a lull right now) although they get no credit and no funding. Sounds like Los Angeles. Today I’ll attend the Writers Conference at the University of Manchester. Later this evening I’ll be on a panel (that includes a couple of these youth leaders from last night, Ms. Becnel, and myself) on how gang literature (memoirs, novels, children’s books) can help, or not, the ongoing debate about gang violence in most urban core cities and communities. c/s
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