Shizue Seigel talks Bay Area’s diversity of perspectives featured in new anthology ‘Essential Truths’
What are the essential truths that you hold on to in hard times? This is the guiding question of Write Now! SF Bay’s fourth anthology, “Essential Truths: The Bay Area in Color,” full of compelling stories of loss and love told through poetry, prose and visual art in a variety of styles from talented writers of color from the Bay Area. Edited by Shizue Seigel, the anthology has 130 contributors ranging from known poet laureates to educators to everyday people who love to write. Seigel herself has written, edited or co-authored seven books and founded Write Now! SF Bay in 2015.
When it comes to Seigel’s vision for “Essential Truths,” she went in with an open mind and let the anthology unfold without knowing exactly what she was going to get in the end. “In terms of the vision, I don’t go into anything saying I have a perceived notion. I think that that’s a dangerous thing. … You come in with an idea, and your vision shapes what you see and then you make everything conform to your vision,” Seigel said in an interview with The Daily Californian.
The beauty of “Essential Truths” is how it’s grounded in reality. The contributors face their hardships, confusions and deepest thoughts head-on. “Cause I notice sometimes there’s a tendency for writers to escape into ideas and ideals or into just the sheer beauty of words or the originality of the words, and it’s like no, wait a minute, let’s come back to the reality of what’s going on with you, right now,” Seigel said.
Seigel feels that it’s important for people to know that more than half of the Bay Area is composed of people of color and that it’s crucial for BIPOC to get the opportunity to share their stories. Regardless of these numbers, Seigel does not think that the mere presence of people of color prompts respect and acknowledgment.
“Most people are surprised to hear those statistics because systemic racism trains us to discount certain categories of people,” Seigel said. “We see them as street furniture. There’s a street driver, there’s a busboy, there’s a caregiver, there’s a nanny. We don’t see them, we don’t perceive them as people with agency in the same way that you know white people are assumed to have agency and have importance in society.”
With an ethnically diverse group of contributors, “Essential Truths” features an array of perspectives and experiences as well, showing how people of color are not and never have been a monolith. Siegel said, “I hope that (readers) realize the incredible diversity among people of color. We are so much more than the stereotypes and the headlines. There’s so much depth and wisdom.”
Indeed, a lot of depth and wisdom can be found in “Essential Truths,” which makes it poignant as readers navigate through varying experiences of racism, isolation and change. Because of the anthology’s nature and themes, Seigel felt it was necessary to include artwork to raise readers’ spirits.
One of Seigel’s own artworks in the book is a recreation of “Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne,” where the face of Napoleon is replaced with that of a Japanese grandmother who powerfully wields a broom and staff. When it comes to her own heritage, Seigel has written about her experiences as a Japanese American and plans to complete a two-volume memoir.
Seigel’s experiences as a Japanese American have shaped the ways she understands politics and democracy. “I was born just a few months after my extended family was released from the incarceration camps of World War II,” she said. “So I sort of grew up with the knowledge that our civil liberties are not a guarantee and that they can be ripped out from under us at any moment.”
Through “Essential Truths” and Write Now! SF Bay’s other anthologies, Seigel wants to encourage people to be open-minded and reflect on their own experiences, biases and the ways their world has shaped them.
“I want to encourage people to start listening to each other. And not just the political stuff, because we’re shaped by our entire environment,” she said. “Our parents, our heritage, the historical events that happen around us, our local environment, town, city, suburb, all those things shape who we are. People need to start looking at that stuff. What are the lenses through which I am looking and how are they filtering my perception?”
“I find that a lot of people want to talk. They want to share their stories,” Seigel said.
After more than a year of not interacting with strangers regularly, “Essential Truths” is like walking down a crowded, colorful street with chatty passersby. Through the anthology, readers get the chance to walk in strangers’ shoes. With love and curiosity, you just have to open your heart to truly hear what they’re saying.
This content was originally published here.
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