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It Occurs to Me That I Am America

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About two weeks ago we received an email from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) inviting us to a social gathering at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) on Wednesday evening, June 6, and so, after spending a short time at County Councilperson Miller's ice cream social, off we went.

The invitation we received from the ACLU read in part as follows: "We're partnering with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) to explore the themes present in the provocative, unprecedented anthology, 'It Occurs to Me That I Am America.' This book was published in 2018 in support of the ACLU upon the one-year anniversary of the Inaugural Women's March. Let's together examine the state of the union and determine our role in 'We the People.'"

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After arriving at MOCA, we went to its store, supervised by Ms. Hannah Hilditch, to review the book which looked very promising. It contained stories and visual works by such authors and artists as Mr. Walter Mosley, Ms. Angela Flournoy, Ms. Joyce Carol Oates, Mr. Art Spiegelman, Mr. David Storey, Ms. Susan Crile, and Ms. Alice Walker.

It also contained an introduction by Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who came to this country with his family in 1975 as a refugee from Vietnam. It concluded with the idea that instead of making America great again we should help it love again, what all the contributors to this book seek to do "through their insistence that each one of us is a part of America."

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This was all we knew about "It Occurs to Me That I Am America" before the program started. We had not intended to even purchase a copy, but as the evening wore on, our intentions changed.

After introductions and acknowledgments by Dr. Sri Thakkilapati of the ACLU as well as Ms. Megan Lykins Reich and Ms. Jill Snyder of MOCA, Mr. Jonathan Santlofer, the distinguished novelist and editor of "It Occurs to Me...," took the stage and explained that he was motivated by his own shock and frustration concerning the unexpected outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election to gather writers and artists together from diverse genders, ethnicity, backgrounds, age, and political beliefs (50 in all) to produce this "true labor of love."

He went on to call to the stage author Ms. Angela Flournoy and visual artist Ms. Susan Crile to discuss their contributions to "It Occurs to Me..." as well as what motivates them to produce the works that they do.

During the Q and A, as is our habit, we asked Ms. Flournoy and Ms. Crile if they would consider taking on a project about immigration. Both of them agreed it was indeed a very urgent subject, but it was a question of finding the right format in which to frame it, although Ms. Flournoy said she is planning to write a novel set in Los Angeles, so the issue of immigration will definitely be touched upon in some way.

Mr. Santlofer added that both his paternal and maternal grandparents immigrated to the United States, so this was a topic especially dear to him. In fact, he is writing a story about one of his grandfathers who played an important role in his life.

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The evening ended with a short address by Mr. J. Bennett Guess, Executive Director of the ACLU of Ohio. Mr. Guess said his organization was committed mind to heart to the connective power to make change in this world. We learned that all of the proceeds from the sale of "It Occurs to Me That I Am America" will go to the ACLU so that its work can continue.

Needless to say we and several of our friends ended up purchasing the book from Ms. Hilditch in the MOCA store. Afterwards Mr. Santlofer, Ms. Flournoy, and Ms. Crile all autographed the book for Ms. Wong, who we know will love it.

Later, we took "It Occurs to Me..." home and looked it over. We noticed that Mr. Santlofer was also responsible for the book's foreword, which he in part wrote. Here's an excerpt: 
"I am proud and honored to work with this extraordinary group of people. This book belongs to them and to everyone who values our country's rights and privileges, who believes in decency, in a freedom that was fought for and a democracy that may be imperfect but we cherish and need to preserve. This book represents more than a collection of great prose and beautiful pictures; it represents hope."

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates LLC