Closing ceremony for Far East Project

Talk about Balkanizing the peripherals: a small nonprofit magazine viciously attacks a small nonprofit art book created by its community members. As the mentor of the Far East Project: Everything Just As It is, I admit bias, but that does not take away from the colossal fact that I am sickened by Miriam Raftery’s review of the book. A lifelong resident of East County, I have been teaching creative writing at Grossmont College for twelve years, and I can attest to the authenticity and artistic merit of the book. The Far East features the types of stories and poems one reads in a creative writing program at a community college in San Diego’s East County. This book reflects the troubling and triumphantly beautiful—yes beautiful—experiences of so many of us who grew up in the East County. Most of my students, myself included, did not grow up “atop Mt. Helix” admiring “stunning scenic shots.” Personally, the book causes me to celebrate the power of art, and I am not alone. At the Far East DEBUT at Grossmont College’s “Lester Bangs Memorial Reading,” the authors were flooded by audience members who thanked them for writing stories and poems in which they could see their lives. Some of them cried. In written responses to the book, students and community members have repeatedly described the book’s literature and art as “real” and “powerful.” Raftery's judgement of the book as “offensive” and “unconscionable” (along with many other nasty adjectives) belittles the lives of East County residents and those published in the book—many of which are my current or former students and academic colleagues. The Far East: Everything Just As It Is does not claim to be a comprehensive look at the region, nor was it intended to be. A close reading makes that immediately apparent. I am not sure how the editor of East County Magazine claims the authority to demand that the San Diego Foundation, “restore the trust and support of East County residents.” I am one East County resident—with roots going back a century—who disagrees with her, and I know there are plenty more. For the most part, Raftery reviewed the book she would have liked published (she even asks for the money!), not The Far East—a cardinal sin in journalism. In addition, she illustrates an unsophisticated understanding of literature and art that only serves her limited and conventional definition of beauty. Art reflects the world and relieves suffering—this book has helped the East County community in which I live. I am proud to be a part of it. Finally, I discovered Raferty’s “review” in an email this morning with the message: “I will say the project has succeeded.” Baudelaire said it is the role of art to “shock the bourgeoisie,” so perhaps I should be happy. Sydney Brown English Professor and Creative Writing Program Co-Coordinator Grossmont College
— December 4, 2012 1:04 p.m.

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