The Write Side of History: Lethem and other Lit Types Speak at Occupy

Under a makeshift metal-and-bamboo arch at Zuccotti Park this week, The Transom spotted a sign proclaiming “The People’s Library” tacked onto a bulletin board below a table fashioned from plastic book bins. Written in sloppy, black Sharpie another pushpin note read: “Jonathan Lethem 11/7 3:30.”

At the appointed time, Mr. Lethem and playwright Lynn Nottage—along with of-the-moment novelist Jennifer Egan—arrived with a small entourage of camera people. The three literary powerhouses—who among them share two Pulitzer prizes, two Guggenheim Fellowships, two MacArthur awards and two National Book Critics Circle awards—were welcomed by eager lit-fans and indifferent bystanders. Per usual, the climate at the park was that of camaraderie, mildew and unrest.

Dressed in a velvety blue blazer, grey Nike tennis shoes and tortoise shell glasses, Mr. Lethem adressed the modest crowd, “This is a lucky day for me to stand before you. I wish I could offer something in return to what you’ve given me.”

The author—whose collection The Ecstasy of Influence was just released by Doubleday (a subsidiary of Bertlesmann)—condemned the cynical press and unruly corporate regimes, while asserting they’re merely as-yet-unconverted members of the 99%.

He compared O.W.S. to the greatest service call of all time. “Even those who sneer or berate,” he proclaimed, “they’re one of you—one of us—just not willing—not yet—to see it. What do you do with a call like that? Best is to summon these words: ‘I’d like to speak to your supervisor’ and when the so-called supervisor appears, now your supervisor. And so on up the line!”
He closed with insistence an that O.W.S. push for more fiscal responsibility in regards to big business.

Afterward, The Observer asked about the artist’s place in O.W.S. and Mr. Lethem made himself clear: “An equal place to any other citizen, with no particular privileges. I wouldn’t presume any more than that.”

Jonathan Lethem, Jennifer Egan and Lynn Nottage

Ms. Egan chose not to address the protesters, but tagged along to support Mr. Lethem. “I had never been here before,” she told us. “I was curious to be an observer,” she said. “I am not against speaking, but I think you should speak when you really know what you want to say.”

Ms. Nottage knew what she wanted to say. Clutching two sheets of typed prose, she adressed the crowd, “As a writer I believe firmly in the power of the narrative, and somehow our national narrative has been corrupted. Our story used to be simple; it was driven by the notion that hard work, compassion and community meant something.”

The playwright imparted sentiments similar to Mr. Lethem’s: “I’m not a megaphone of the movement. I am just one of many voices in a collective movement. I am not just here to shout louder than anyone else, but to be part of the den.” The Write Side of History: Lethem and other Lit Types Speak at Occupy