Across the world, intolerance of otherness is growing: in Donald Trump’s America, in Brexit Britain and in a Europe seared by nationalistic resentment. Prejudice and hatred thrive in minds unwilling to entertain other points of view.
The craft of writing arguably depends on representing the experience of others. Poets and novelists make an art of giving voice to the voiceless, and of putting consciousness in places where we didn’t expect to find it. On literature’s springboard, we can all know the exhilarating leap into another worldview.
Others celebrates how words can take us out of the selves we inhabit and show us the world as others see it. Fiction writers and poets will make us look out through other pairs of eyes; essayists will probe the mental blocks that can make it hard to see the realities beyond the media bubbles. The contributors to Others will do nothing they don’t already do – make the homely strange and the exotic familiar – but they’ll do it with an unflinching eye on today’s social inequalities and the thirst for political change.
What can you expect from the book? Sometimes the theme will be the brutal consequences of intolerance and hatred, as in one shattering story of a racist hate crime. Other pieces will explore the quieter forms of otherness that go with deafness, disability, and mental distress. Our failure to stand in other pairs of shoes is most catastrophic when it goes with imbalances of power. But great writing can also illuminate ordinary kinds of otherness, by taking us into points of view we might not otherwise have been able to enter: those moments when, thanks to the magic of words, people are less strange to each other, or we glimpse something of the strangeness of our own selves.
It’s common to hear that now, of all times, literature matters. We hear less about why it matters, how books and reading can relieve minds that have come to despair at the world. Others will be much more than a worthy call for empathy. The greatest literature challenges us to recognise our own otherness; not just to understand how people out there are different to us, but how we are alien to them.
Others may not change the world, although it will be shaped by passions that could. At the very least, it might serve as a pocket device for keeping track of our humanity through what could be some rough years. Proceeds from the book will be donated to the charities Refugee Action and Stop Hate UK.
Current contributors include:
Leila Aboulela, Gillian Allnutt, Damien Barr, Noam Chomsky, Rishi Dastidar, Peter Ho Davies, Louise Doughty, Colin Grant, Matt Haig, Aamer Hussein, Anjali Joseph, A L Kennedy, Tiffany Murray, Sara Nović, Edward Platt, Alex Preston, Tom Shakespeare, Kamila Shamsie and Will Storr.
Excerpt from ‘The Ostrich’ by Leila Aboulela
I had forgotten how small the flat was, how thin the walls were. Student accommodation. The cleanliness comes as a surprise, this clean land free of dust and insects. Everywhere carpet and everything compact like boxes inside boxes, the houses stuck together defensively. September and it is already winter, already cold. The window, how many hours did I spend looking out of this window? For two years I looked out at strangers, unable to make stories about them, unable to tell who was rich, who was poor, who mended pipes and who healed the ill. And sometimes (this was particularly disturbing) not even knowing who was a man and who was a woman. Strangers I must respect, strangers who were better than me. This is what Majdy says. Every one of them is better than us. See the man who is collecting the rubbish, he is not ravaged by malaria, anaemia, bilharzia, he can read the newspaper, write a letter, he has a television in his house and his children go to a school where they get taught from glossy books. And if they are clever, if they show a talent in music or science, they will be encouraged and they might be important people one day. I look at the man who collects the rubbish and I am ashamed that he picks bags with our filth in them. When I pass him on the road I avert my eyes.
Thanks for supporting Others. We’re here to celebrate how books and writing can free us to imagine other points of view: whether it’s a novelist giving voice to the voiceless, a poet bringing alive a moment of consciousness we might not otherwise have experienced, or an essayist examining the many ways in which people can be strange to each other.
We’re crowdfunded, so we need you and all your…
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be showcasing some of the writers who are already lined up to contribute to Others. First up is an outstanding voice in British poetry, Rishi Dastidar. Rishi has been described (by none other than Daljit Nagra) as ‘one of the most ingenious, modern, thrilling, hilarious and tender poets writing today’. With cool wit, exhilarating invention and sheer verbal brilliance…
You’ll know what this is all about by now: a fantastic group of writers celebrating how words can help us to see the world as others see it.
You’ll also know that proceeds from the book will be going to two very worthy causes. Stop Hate UK works to challenge all forms of hate crime and discrimination, and runs a 24-hour helpline for reporting it. Refugee Action supports people fleeing from…
These people are helping to fund Others.