Thursday, September 22, 2005

Poet Sharon Olds to Laura Bush: Take your festival and shove it!

Sharon Olds, a professor of English at New York University and an award-winning poet, was one of several writers invited by First Lady Laura Bush to read from their works at this year's National Book Festival in Washington (being held September 24, 2005). In declining the First Lady's invitation, Ms. Olds offered more than a simple "no thanks" R.S.V.P. Her letter to Mrs. Bush, which, not surprisingly, has been published in the latest issue of the left-leaning publication The Nation, explains that the Iraq war is the reason she chose not to attend a "festival of books" that would draw more than 85,000 people. Some of her own words (emphasis is mine):

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country -- with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism -- the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness -- as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing -- against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.

The letter, in full and, really, a tad over the top, is here.

I'm at somewhat of a loss. Why can't you be both for books and against the Iraq war? [Please note, I am both for books and the Iraq war]. Why can't you attend a "festival of books" and still disagree with the policies of the host's husband? Sharing the butter dish at dinner with the First Lady would somehow make you feel as if you were condoning President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq? I really don't understand it.

(I stumbled upon the Olds letter here.)

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