(1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, Remembering Tomorrow, is about? What is it trying to communicate?
Remembering Tomorrow is not organized in a linear historical flow, as are most memoirs. Instead, Remembering Tomorrow’s main sections and chapters feature broad types of content such as the Sixties, activist organizing since then, teaching and student experiences, building new media and activist institutions, international experiences, money and the left, people I have met and worked with, music and culture and the left, personal life and the left, and the ups and downs of creating and advocating vision and strategy.
In the large, Remembering Tomorrow tries to communicate the intimate characteristics of dissent, resistance, and building new and better social relations. It explores what happens in such projects, who is involved, people’s choices and beliefs, and our institutions and movements. Remembering Tomorrow personally presents left logic, motives, and feelings. Why did we act as we did – both in the Sixties, and in the decades since? What do we feel about what we have done and how we have done it? How do others react? It isn’t religious, but there is plenty of revelation.
Remembering Tomorrow highlights organizing and features consciousness raising. It focuses on activism and demonstrations, on institution building, writing, and speaking, but also on academia and teaching, book and magazine publishing, internet and media activism, and developing and evaluating ideas for movement building. Organizations from SDS to the WSF and many in between are prominent. Many individuals pass through the pages, some notable and others not, some effective and others not. Left money and fund raising make a substantial appearance, as does left culture and community. Moral, emotional, social, and intellectual failings and successes are explored. And Remembering Tomorrow is also about daily life choices including friendships and hostilities, the logic and impact of people’s sexual and personal life choices, and of movement interpersonal relations. Remembering Tomorrow is about worries, and it is about hopes.
(2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?
I have been author, co-author, or editor of nearly twenty books, and publisher of over a hundred, but this was the hardest to complete. Partly I was intimidated by the material. I felt like I couldn’t convey the reality and lessons of the Sixties unless the prose matched the topic, and for me, trying to attain that was very difficult. Dauntingly, once I got going, the same held for most other parts of the book as well, for example the history of South End Press or Z, or the process of the development of the ideas of participatory economics. In these cases too, not to mention personal experiences, I wanted to convey the actual feelings and thoughts that arose along the way, not just the final results.The phrasing and nuance of the writing, and not just its substance, had to fit the people, ideas, events, and actions of the times. The tone had to excite readers and also communicate to readers both the texture and content of the events explored. In short, not just the books literary logic, but also its styleistic pacing had to both communicate and also interrogate the ideas relayed. I was intimidated by that stylistic need, especially regarding the older period called the Sixties. It was also hard to remember content from times past, to reject lots of stories that mattered to me but didn’t present material of more general value. You write a book like this and for the duration you are dredging up and assessing past not always pleasant events. That made this project much harder than writing a more analytic work.
Books on how to write memoirs tell prospective authors that you must communicate as a novel does, with texture and detail. They say, if you don’t remember who wore what, the weather on the day of the event you are describing, who said what to whom, and so on, well then you should just make it up. This may sound incredible to you – it certainly did to me – but that is real advice memoirists receive, and it’s what memoirists typically do, too. Books about writing memoirs also say, don’t show a memoir to anyone until after its publication. They say, put in your memoir everything that is dramatic, leave out from your memoir anything that isn’t, or, better, tweak it until it is. In other words, books about writing memoirs have lots of crummy, commercial, self serving, and anti-social advice which memoirists generally live by. I naturally ignored the advice. I checked Remembering Tomorrow’s stories with those involved. I didn’t make up anything. I included what I thought had meaning and might resonate usefully. I left out what didn’t, however dramatic it may have been. But, yes, I also tried to write Remembering Tommorrow congenially, emotively, personally, and of course accessibly.
So, as to the specific question, the book’s content comes from the period addressed, nearly half a century. What went into making Remembering Tomorrow was that history, and everyone involved in it, and a lot of heartfelt writing and editing that utilized help from many readers – as is the case with most books.
(3) What are your hopes for Remembering Tomorrow? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
Everything I write and do politically has one overarching purpose, to contribute to efforts to revolutionize society and history. So if the book contributes to movement growth and to successful struggle I am happy about it. If it doesn’t contribute, then I am sad about it.
I tried to make the accounts in Remembering Tomorrow instructive about what is wrong with society, what we might prefer as vision, and how we might attain our aims, but I also tried to make the book’s stories about people, places, institutions, and acts not only true and accurate, but also engaging, inspiring, tear-jerking, provocative, indicative, instructive, and revealing. I hope the book accomplishes all that sufficiently to make a difference in how readers think about themselves, about their actions and choices, and about their aims and their methods.
More specifically, Remembering Tomorrow has three broad audiences who I am most trying to address. First, there are people of my generation who were once and who may or may not still be involved with social change. I hope Remembering Tomorrow reawakens or otherwise strengthens their commitment for justice and their willingness to act insightfully on it. Then there are young people in high schools, colleges, and at work, who have recently become politically active, including in the new SDS, for example. I hope Remembering Tomorrow provides these young readers a more useful look at past experiences of the Sixties and of the decades since than they have come across elsewhere. I hope Remembering Tomorrow helps them navigate the tricky and crucial life choices they face, helping in particular with the tasks of personal development, consciousness raising, and organizing. And then, finally, there are people who have been heretofore uninvolved but who are curious about leftists and about left history, and who wonder who leftists are, what we are about, what we do, what we feel and think, and the whys and wherefores of it all. I hope Remembering Tomorrow can give them some answers that will simultaneously inspire and provoke them, perhaps affecting their choices in coming years.
Judging one’s work, whether writing, or organizing, or just living, is awfully hard. For example, you travel a long way and give a talk, one time, and there are ten people there, who listen quietly, ask few questions, and leave. Another time, you travel similarly and there are a thousand people who react with great gusto, ask many questions, and seem quite excited. It is tempting, almost unavoidable, to feel that the first effort was a relative failure and the second a big success. But what if one of those ten people had a life altering experience and became the modern day equivalent of Rosa Parks? And what if, on the other hand, the thousand people, much as they enjoyed your talk and applauded until their hands were raw, weren’t altered by it at all? They just heard something they liked, which, however, added nothing to their lives. Now which talk was the success?
I think it is like that with a book too. Do I want more readers than less? Yes, of course, I do. Do I hope for wide discussion and debate about the book’s contents? Naturally I do. Do I hope that this work will inspire many people to additionally pick up more detailed works on parecon? Yes, for sure. But is all that essential for Remembering Tomorrow to prove worth the time expended on it? No, probably not, but as to what would be decisive, well, honestly, I wish I knew. Regarding self assessment, I generally hope for the best and just keep on plugging. I imagine that will be my reaction to whatever success or lack of success this book has in the months ahead, too.
To find out more visit the Remembering Tomorrow book page on ZNet.