#AWP17 Featured Presenter Q&A with Rikki Ducornet

AWP | January 2017

Event Title: School of Exactly One: C.D. Wright Memorial, Sponsored by Copper Canyon Press
Description: The New York Times wrote that poet C.D. Wright was so original, so fiercely independent, that she belonged to “a school of exactly one.” C.D. died unexpectedly in early 2016, just before her new book, ShallCross, appeared. To honor her life, legacy, and legendary generosity, three celebrated writers and her longtime editor share her poems, their personal stories about C.D., and a conversation about how C.D.'s poems and collaborations are high art and groundbreaking tools for social justice.
Participants: Ben Lerner, Dana Levin, Rikki Ducornet, Pura López-Colomé
Location:Ballroom B, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Three
Date & Time: Friday, February 10, 2017 3:00 p.m.–4:15 p.m.

Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
A: Despite an uncomprehending culture that distrusts the creative imagination’s necessary subversions, and in a year of escalating national and international emergency, the nightmare that has from its beginnings never ceased to erode our democracy—from the militarization of prisons and neighborhood streets, to public obscenities in newsrooms and restrooms—the great books keep on coming from within and without our borders. Exemplary for its timeliness and incandescence, A Battle for Home (Thames & Hudson) is such a brilliant one. Its author, Marwa Al-Sabouni, is a Syrian architect who has elected, along with her husband and two children, to remain in bleeding Homs, their city, its center beyond repair.  A city that not long ago, was thriving and diverse. In a recent interview, Marwa remarks that her city’s river is named Al-Assi: the disobedient. Her book is the embodiment of a spirited uncompliance with a regime characterized by interminable crimes. As the outrages accumulate, she persists in a vision of a city reclaimed, ascendant and, above all, generous. 

A Battle for Home makes palpable the intimate connection between a generous city and a generous people, between architecture and identity, city planning and moral life. She reminds us that a city is the mirror of a people. It reflects corruption, favoritism, ignorance and greed. It reflects neglect and despair. Having seen Homs savaged block by block, soul by soul, having witnessed the annihilation of children at play in a school courtyard, she persists in her conviction that a city can and must provide each and every child the chance to fulfill its destiny.

Shortly after reading A Battle for Home, Marwa and I began a correspondence. As I bear witness to our own cascading failures, her courage and clairvoyance from within the extremity of her situation have been constant companions. Her breathtaking decision to remain in her city is an urgent reminder of the moral necessity to stand firm and overcome the lethalities of the present in order to illuminate the future. A future in which the unfettered breath of life surges, its energies intact. Marwa’s book and her courage remind us that our cities must reflect unlimited promise and that joy is our birthright.

Q: What advice can you offer to writers who must navigate between the solitude of artistic work and our nation’s politics and culture at this moment?
A: The creative imagination is the agency that releases us from all that compromises our capacity for clarity and so: transformation. We are wired to think creatively, just as we are wired to play, to be curious, to wander, to fall in love, to ask questions, to overcome obstacles, to search for answers. The artifacts of the creative impulse are the most human, invigorating and inspiring gift we can give one another. In other words: the imagination is as essential to our journey as is compassionate loving. Our joy in life depends upon these. Our survival depends upon these.


Rikki Ducornet Rikki Ducornet is the author of nine novels as well as poetry, fiction, and essays, including The Monstrous and the Marvelous and The Deep Zoo. Finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award, she has received a Lannan Award for Fiction, The Bard Medal in Arts and Letters, and an Academy Award in Literature.

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