Simpsonistas Vol. 1

Tales from the Simpson Family Literary Project (Vol. 1)

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Simpsonistas: Tales from the Simpson Family Literary Project, Vol. 1 highlights brilliant work by associates of the Simpson Project: Joyce Carol Oates, Anthony Marra, T. Geronimo Johnson, Samantha Hunt, Lori Ostlund, Martin Pousson, Ben Fountain, and many others, including Simpson Fellows as well as young writers appearing for the first time in print. Johnson and Marra were Simpson Prize Winners; Fountain, Hunt, Ostlund, and Pousson were Prize Finalists.

Excerpt from the Introduction by Joseph Di Prisco

What would our lives be like without storytelling?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Without stories, our lives would be, quite literally, unimaginable.

Storytelling may not be everything, but sometimes, when you catch yourself being swept up in a story, transported by the narrative, it can feel in the moment close to being everything, whatever everything might provisionally stand for besides everything. Crazy overstated? Maybe. Nevertheless, that is something like the case that T. Geronimo Johnson, 2017 Simpson Prize Recipient, makes about the importance of stories in his supercharged and allusive Berkeley commencement address, found here in these pages. To quote Johnson, “Humans cannot survive without story any more than they can survive without sunlight.”

Consider Joyce Carol Oates, Simpson Project Writer-in-Residence. She fashions a tantalizing, related argument in her illuminating, wide-ranging essay, “A Wounded Deer—Leaps Highest’: Motives for Metaphor,” included here as well, about writers artfully, urgently “bearing witness” in their stories, novels, and poems. In Oates’s words, “‘Bearing witness’ means giving voice to those whose voices have been muted, or destroyed; those who have been victims; those whose stories require a larger audience than they have received.”

Insights such as these resonate intensely for the Simpson Family Literary Project. Storytelling fosters empathy. Stories elicit passions and refine reflections. They bind us together in the language, and languages, of our shared humanity. It may seem distressingly self-evident that meaningful connections between people can sometimes provide elusive in our radically contentious Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / AI epoch. As far as the Simpson Project is concerned, however, it’s worth each ounce of our energy, each investment of the imagination, expended in the efforts to forge such life-affirming linkages—in and through stories. We believe that storytelling, when it kicks in, when it is internalized, when it is taught, creates and enriches communities. And if we frame storytelling that way, perhaps we just might be oonching closer and closer to the nongentrified, unboundaried worldwide neighborhood where, well, everything might indeed be very much on the table.

We applaud these innovations and encourage more. More risky undertakings in the name of “speaking truth to power”—or in the name of sheer comic excess. More experimentations with genre. More publishing projects that introduce readers to writers both emerging and established, from cultures distant from our own. Especially we crave radical and subversive art from the margins of society, that challenges the authority of the center. More quirky, stubborn, rebellious voices to counteract the ubiquitous drone of social-media culture. More public support for all the arts—visual, musical, theatrical, dance, print—and not just the arts that reflect our own convictions.

If our art sometimes provokes unexpected reactions this is the price we must pay for our commitment to bearing witness in a turbulent world.