The Prompter Room

For Friday, August 10, 2018:


Plato … suggested that the future citizens of his ideal republic begin their literary education with the telling of myths, rather than with mere facts or so-called rational teachings.  Even Aristotle, master of pure reason, said ‘The friend of wisdom is also a friend of myth.’

Bruno Bettelheim, THE USE OF ENCHANTMENT (quoted in Rollo May’s THE CRY FOR MYTH)


The Prompter Room

For Friday, June 22, 2018:


… Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers. The job of the writer is to make us see the world as it is, full of many different claims and parts and experiences.

It is the job of the writer to depict the realities: the foul realities, the realities of rapture. It is the essence of the wisdom furnished by literature (the plurality of literary achievement) to help us to understand that, whatever is happening, something else is always going on.

Susan Sontag – 2001 Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech, ‘The Conscience of Words,’ AT THE SAME TIME: ESSAYS AND SPEECHES

The Prompter Room

For Friday, August 25, 2017:


This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.

Toni Morrison, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” in the 150th anniversary issue of The Nation.

The Prompter Room

For Friday, June 16, 2017:


The subject of autobiography is always self-definition, but it cannot be self-definition in the void.  The memoirist, like the poet and the novelist, must engage with the world, because engagement makes experience, experience makes wisdom, and finally it’s the wisdom – or rather the movement toward it – that counts … The poet, the novelist, the memoirist – all must convince the reader they have some wisdom, and are writing as honestly as possible to arrive at what they know.  To the bargain, the writer of personal narrative must also persuade the reader that the narrator is reliable.

Vivian Gornick





The Prompter Room

For Tuesday, January 5, 2016:


“Where there is consciousness, there will be myth.”


I suggest the import here changes if we switch the order of Rollo May’s words.  If we say ‘Where there is myth, there will be [or (editor’s note) ‘there is’] consciousness,’ we lay the foundation for Aristotle’s assertion that “The friend of wisdom is also a friend of myth.”

It is important for writers in any genre — and, I believe, for humankind in general — to know our mythologies, those of our own cultures and those of others.  Are we familiar with the Greek and Roman myths?  The Norse myths?  Native American myths?  Those of Africa and Latin America, Polynesia, Russia, Japan and other Asian countries?  Other mythic stories of the world?  The myths in the Bible, both in the Hebrew and Christian covenants?  If not, I suggest we need to be.

The mythologies of the world serve as something of a GPS for our lives.  Not only do our own myths help us navigate the particular streets and neighborhoods of our daily lives and societies, but they broaden our perspective to help us understand those of other peoples.

We find how similar we are to each other, usually much more so than we are different.  We come to see, for just one instance, that stories from the ancient Celts in Britain still survive in the stories and songs in the mountains of Appalachia in the U. S.  We discover the thrill of yet another Creation story of yet another culture, another civilization.

One of the things I worry about is that the children of today are not growing up hearing stories on a porch on a summer night or around a campfire.  I worry that young people are so literally attached to their technological devices, they won’t have the experience of the age-old and newfound wisdom of their communities to rely on as they try to make their way through life.  People nowadays don’t even look each other in the eye.  Instead they’re looking down at their devices, even when families are together around a table (which begs the question, are they really together?).

As storytellers, as poets, dancers, painters, photographers, songwriters and screenwriters, and other artists, we owe it to the world – and, I believe, we owe it to ourselves – to immerse ourselves in the wisdom of the myths, of the lives and peoples, that have come before us.  Then we must build on them and add our own stories to pass down to our young people, so they will be able to create new porches and new campfires for a new time.