Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “social injustice”

Can Fantasy Be A Vehicle For Social Change?

I believe passionately that writers of fiction can ply their craft to help effect positive social change and offer a platform for values and principles. The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale both reflect this and I have a series of books focusing on social issues in the US (all based in San Francisco) beginning with Unwanted Heroes which will be released by Three Clover Press later this year and highlight the way we treat war veterans and the homeless.

I was delighted when Kaitlyn Cole from Online Universities shared a list that their faculty had put together entitled: 50 Best Novels For Political Junkies.

Kaitlyn wrote: “True story: Some of the best political novels aren’t explicitly about politics. Yes, some of the books on this list deal directly with governments and politicians, with laws and the ways they’re made or abused, and with the peril and promise inherent in every governing body. But some of them use adventure, parable, or satire to subtly explore our political system with a depth that wouldn’t be possible any other way.”

Great point and relevant to those of us who write political fiction. But how about fantasy? Is there room to use our elves and dwarves to promote social injustices or causes? 

Over the last three summers I was blessed with the amazing experience of writing three fantasy novels together with now 13-year-old son. While I have read a few fantasy novels, I had no idea about the “rules” of the genre.

Writing with my son, however, compelled me to include moral issues such as racism, dictatorship and freedom, as well as the values of friendship and inclusiveness. I was writing for my son and there are plenty of swords, quests, elves, dwarves etc., but as I watched him read and listened to his feedback, I waited for his comments about such issues and derived huge satisfaction when he brought up issues.

In setting my goals for an exercise at Author Salon, I wrote:

“I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

 My lack of knowledge regarding fantasy leads me to ask the question: Can fantasy offer a vehicle to discuss political and social injustice? I would love to hear your answers.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Transformational Fiction Workshop

I have expounded in previous blog posts what motivates me to write in the political fiction genre and why I love the term Transformational FictionThis coming Sunday, April 10th, between 10am-1pm, I will be teaching a workshop for the California Writers Club entitled: Fiction As A Vehicle For Social Change: Using the Novel for a Better World.

There are many ways today to reach out and influence people. Traditional media has been supplemented by websites, blogs, non-profit promotion, and traditional activism. But most of these options are often no longer than 5-minute sound bites, or an afternoon of flurry.

The novel has long held the ability to create powerful images and characters that stay with the reader long after they read the final page. What if the novel can precipitate a transformational change not just within the story, but in how it impacts the reader? What if the emotional connection between reader and plot, or reader and fictional character, can motivate the reader to fight social injustice?


I am now in the middle of writing my fifth politically focused novel (The Accidental Activist is the third). Each novel features a character who experiences a transformational process, emerging with a stronger consciousness and a desire to help make a difference.

I am interested in your answers to the following questions:

1. What novels have helped make you the person you are?

2. What characters (and from which novels) have stayed with you a long time after you read the last page?

I appreciate your answers. If you are interested in participating in the workshop, or have any questions about it, please contact Barbara Ruffner at:  bdonruff at lmi dot net.


Finally, one last question. Do you think novels can really help change the world we live in? ——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

 

 

Movies That Matter: MILK

I love everything connected to San Francisco. I never thought that I would fall in love with a city but I have. The reasons why are a matter for another post. MILK is about Harvey Milk and gay rights, but it is also about San Francisco.

When I went to see MILK, I was visiting with family in Southern California. Part of the ritual is that my in-laws kindly take our children out to the latest Pixar movie, allowing my wife and I a rare date – usually a meal and movie.

Being still new to the US, I knew nothing about Harvey Milk or the history of the Gay Rights struggle in San Francisco. But the combination of Sean Penn + San Francisco = our night out.

For a basic synopsis, please see the review from Kathleen C. Fennessy on the movie’s Amazon.com page. Here is the first paragraph.

In 1972, Milk (Sean Penn) and his boyfriend, Scott (James Franco), move from New York to San Francisco. Milk opens a camera shop on the Castro. Though considered a safe haven for victims of discrimination, Milk sees enough injustices decide to enter politics. With each race he runs, Harvey’s relationship with Scott unravels further. As he begins to accrue victories, Milk takes on Proposition 6, which denies equal rights to homosexuals.

What draws me to the character of Milk is the fact that he was not a polished politician, groomed from birth as seems to be the case in so many present day leaders. He can be both intense and funny. He makes mistakes, listens, and takes on the ideas of others.

Moreover, he had the ability to inspire people to get involved in grass-roots activism. We observe Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), the ex-street hustler who created the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial. It is a different kind of leadership when you can empower others to take charge of their own lives and effect change.


It was particularly poignant that MILK was released during the struggle for Proposition 8, California’s anti-gay marriage amendment. As Ms. Fennessy concludes: “Milk is inspirational in the best way: one person can and did make a difference, but the struggle is far from over.

My wife and I watched MILK in Ventura. The couple sitting next to me had been there, faces in the crowd. Usually I can’t stand when someone talks during a movie, but there was something magical hearing their reminiscing.

There is a section in the movie where they show a map of California and the gradual election results of Prop 6. When the results were shown for Ventura County, a huge cheer went up around the movie theater.

Very cool.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

The Drive To Write – Transformational Fiction

Al Levenson, Past President of the Berkeley Branch of the California Writer’s Club, asked me a while ago to write why I wrote. I pondered the question for a couple of days and wrote nothing. Then it just all came gushing out:

I write, first and foremost, for myself. I love the rush I feel when the story flows, when I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the thought process, when the characters leave the computer and shadow me at work, in the gym, at home. I love it when I am transported into their world. For a short time I am someone else.

But I also write because I hope to help create change in the world. I strive through my writings to highlight social and political injustice, and to inspire personal activism. My novels all include characters who have transformed themselves, taken on multinational corporations, overcome great personal challenges, and in my next book –  stood up for the homeless and war veterans. At a writing workshop, I think it was at the excellent Santa Barbara’s Writer’s conference, I heard the facilitator try to launch the term – transformational fiction. It never caught on in the writing world, but it spoke to me.

So I want to promote the San Francisco Writing Conference for Change. It is being held on November 13-14, and is organized by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen , icons of the San Francisco literary community. I recently heard them speak, not for the first time, at the California Writer’s Club. These people have truly learned to fuse a passion with a business that is instilled with values.

Finally, if I’m truly honest, I write to stand out. I want people to see me as a person with something to say, to be enthusiastic about my stories, and for my sons to show their teachers and friends my books and say proudly: “My Dad’s an author.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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