Writer’s Harvest Breaks Record

By
October 28, 2004

For the fifth year in a row, the Mills English Department, A
Place For Writers, English graduate students, English undergrads,
and the Alameda County Food Bank have been completely responsible
for fundraising for the Writer’s Harvest without its sponsor
organization Share Our Strength.

Share Our Strength was the organization that founded the
Writer’s Harvest 11 years ago to address the ever-present
need of those who are not fortunate enough to always have something
to eat. On Oct. 20 every year, there were 500 national
Writer’s Harvests that raised money for the hungry.

Due to the large financial successes of other SOS fundraisers
for the hungry, SOS dropped the Writer’s Harvest from their
organization, leaving the advertising and the harnessing of
talented and well-known writers up to individual organizers that
kept up the Writer’s Harvest.

Mills is one of those hold-outs and for the last five years has
pooled resources with local community organizations and a willing
and eager English Dept. and English tutors from A Place For
Writers
, to pull off the event and give 100 percent of the
proceeds to the Alameda County Food Bank.

“It was truly amazing to see just how involved the Mills
community is with the community at large,” said Amelia
Chandler-Lewy, sophomore.

This year, Mills raised $1,300, a record amount of donations.
Most were made at the door, according to Melinda Barnes, place
manager for A Place for Writers. That amount doesn’t include
the mail-in donations which had not yet been added to the total sum
at the time this article was written. This year’s
Writer’s Harvest included writers Jervey Tervalon, Gail
Tsukiyama, and one-time National Chair for the Writer’s
Harvest Tobias Wolff.

“You have to stand with Mills College for supporting
this,” said Tervalon. “I think that more writers need
to be more involved in the community.”

President Janet Holmgren set the tone for the event by
expressing the need for creativity and social responsibility, a
quality that she finds to be a hallmark of Mills College as well as
the event.

“It’s about our neighborhood. Hunger is a weapon of
mass destruction because without food, you can’t do anything
else,” said Elmaz Abinader, English Department Chair and
founder of the Writer’s Harvest on the Mills campus, in her
opening address. “We are hungry in this country because we
don’t know how to take care of each other. Hunger
doesn’t have a political party.”

Tervalon, the first performing writer, read a selection from his
book Lita. In a slightly nervous and occasionally stammering voice,
he read a passage about a group of kids from New Orleans whom
experiences a tough life full of violence, revenge, and even
humor.

After Tervalon was Mills alumna, Jessica Barthelow, who is now
working for the Alameda County Food Bank. Barthelow explained how
she, as the child of a laundry attendant and a disabled veteran,
experienced childhood hunger. She explained that for her, having
regular dorm meals was a significant change from her childhood
where she sometimes wondered where her next meal would come
from.

When Barthelow was attending Mills, she went to a Writer’s
Harvest and heard a writer read a story about a laundry attendant
who ran out of her shop, waiving her calloused hands in the air in
excitement of her child becoming a doctor. Barthelow said that
story moved her, not only to study literature more, but also to do
something to help all of those who experience hunger.

“Charity is not a solution,” said Barthelow,
“It is not a substitute for justice.”

Tsukiyama read from an unfinished work about two women in Japan
who experienced hunger and the death of their families during World
War II. Her reading explained in human detail how hunger can
consume a person as well as how a loving person feels guilt when
they have food while others don’t.

The last writer to read was Wolff, who is a newcomer to the
Mills campus. He read a passage from his novel Boy’s School
about the yearning to be a writer. He also read a short story
called “Bullet in the Brain” about a book critic who
dies because he laughs at bank robbers, and the memories that he
has while the bullet goes through his brain.

The audience exploded with applause after Wolff’s reading,
a few audience members energetically jumping up out of their seats
in standing ovation.

“The problem for writers is to know how to use their gifts
for a larger good, instead of just for aesthetics,” said
Wolff, commenting on the difficulty writers face making their
writing more useful in social movements. “People have such
good will and it only needs to be tapped.”

The evening ended with a raffle of goods donated from the Laurel
Bookstore and the Mills College Bookstore. The room, once full of
eager and lively visitors, began to slowly die down.

“Every year Writer’s Harvest is an exciting event to
attend,” said Sara Wintz, sophomore and co-editor of the
Walrus. “It was great that the Walrus could be a part of
it.”

“I’m exhausted and I’m already thinking of
next year,” said Stephanie Young, English Graduate Program
Director.


Writer’s Harvest Breaks Record was published on October 28, 2004 in Arts & Entertainment

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