A Letter from Ruth
April 16, 2020
I was so moved by Viet Thanh Nguyen’s editorial in the New York Times last week, which made me want to return to my notes from when Nguyen came to SAL in May 2018. I got to bring him to visit students at Nathan Hale High School while he was here, and one of the things he said to the students is, “Anything you care about will require sacrifice.” Nguyen was talking about what it requires to be a writer, but this time calls us all to sacrifice, to care deeply, and to choose our actions accordingly. We stay home (if we are not among the essential workers supporting us all) in order to protect everyone. We buy books from the independent bookstores and small businesses we love, and give to organizations working hard to provide food and shelter and care. Even as we are physically distant from one another, we lean closer.
This week at SAL, we have a few ways of leaning closer that we’re excited to share with you. First, we’ve launched a campaign called Stepping Up Together to pay our Writers in the Schools (WITS) Writers-in-Residence through the end of the school year to support students and teachers while schools are closed. We need to raise $65,000 by April 30 to cover this unplanned expense, and the SAL Board joined together to raise a $32,000 challenge fund so that any gift you make will be matched, dollar for dollar. Please join us in providing writing resources and instruction to students, and opportunities for them to tell the stories of their experiences of this time.
And speaking of stories, we’re excited to launch Kids Summer Book Bingo today! While this was originally supposed to launch on May 14, we know that all readers everywhere can use some extra at-home inspiration, so we’re delighted to offer kids and parents this reading challenge designed by local treasure, Seattle Walk Report (AKA Susanna Ryan).
We hope to see you next Wednesday as we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a lecture by Elizabeth Kolbert from her home straight to yours. If you already have tickets, you will have access to the lecture, and if you don’t yet have tickets, a digital pass is just $10. We’re also sharing her conversation with Sam Howe Verhovek which follows for all to stream for free. One added benefit to the great experiment in online events is that now friends from anywhere can join us—I’m thrilled my brother and his family in Pittsburgh will be with us, and I’d love to know if you have friends or family from other places joining as well. Drop me a note to let me know what you think of the event, and if you’re posting on social media, use #SALKolbert so we can see how you “SAL at home.”
On that May afternoon in the library at Nathan Hale, which now feels very long ago, Nguyen also told students that our hardest experiences are often our most potent: “Stories and memories begin with pain and trauma.” This time of pandemic is a profound trauma across so many dimensions, and we are still at the beginning of understanding and story-making about it all. I know there will be many painful stories, but my fervent hope is that we will also have an abundance of stories of care, and leaning closer, and stepping up.
Still breathing and reading and walking with you,
SAL Executive Director