We at Play On Words are always delighted to follow the careers of previous contributors, writers and artists. That’s one of the reasons why we were excited when Leah Griesmann answered our call for submissions for Activate, the chapbook we are producing in conjunction with San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum and other local community activists.
In addition to being one of our first featured writers, Griesmann has has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, Seoul Art Space Yeonhui, the Key West Writers’ Workshops, the DAAD (Berlin), and the Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University. Her fiction has been read or performed at Sacramento Stories on Stage, Lit Quake San Francisco, PEN Center USA, the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood, and the Shanghai American Center.
She was kind enough to answer some questions about her latest contribution to Play On Words.
What inspired “Before the War?”
It’s a flash fiction piece, and takes place in a fictional world, but the kernel of the idea came from attending the march against the Iraq War in San Francisco some time after September 11th. The protestors I interacted with knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the march was going to have no impact on the war. The most vehement protestors disputed the idea that the U.S. was a representative democracy, or that human actions would have any impact on the machine. And yet, there everyone was, marching. Many were marching out of a sense of personal responsibility, or even futility, rather than hope that the protest would make a real change. Years later, even before the Trump era, those thoughts and feelings of futility have often filled my mind as well. It’s hard not to give into them. Still, the idea that people show up to make their voices heard, putting their bodies and livelihood on the line, is powerful, and one of the most hopeful things I can think of. As a fiction writer, this type of tension and contradiction interests me.
Do you have any personal experience with activism?
In the U.S. I have attended marches and protests, and have been active with several causes, including National Adjunct Walkout Day. There’s a strange tension I feel within the U.S.—the fact that Americans think we can make a difference, that we can see victories of activism here and there, but also incredible setbacks, and the difficulty to create lasting change. Sometimes activism can seem like a band-aid on a broken system while the system’s injustices just continue. Recently I’ve been living outside the U.S., and have been able to witness successful activism in in other forms. In South Korea for example, citizens brought down their corrupt president through week after week of candle light protests. It’s always inspiring to see activism succeed—to see people unite rather than fight, within their own power.
What do you think about Play on Words San Jose’s plan to read your piece?
I am always excited to hear what actors bring to a piece. I write characters with a certain image or voice in mind, then am amazed when performers bring their own interpretations and talent to them. Speaking for my own work, I think the dramatic power of the written word is best achieved when the works are read by actual actors.
Want to hear Leah’s work performed live? Join us next Wednesday, January 17, at Cafe Stritch! Learn more on our Facebook event page.