This spring, as Rwanda commemorates the 1994 genocide that extinguished more than a million of its citizens, a nation assesses its reconstruction while the wider world wrestles with the fact that it stood by. Several important books illuminate these tasks.
“Twenty years ago today our country fell into deep ditches of darkness,” said Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s current minister of foreign affairs. “Twenty years later, today, we are a country united and a nation elevated.”
Economic progress and a fragile peace characterize Rwanda now, under a new Constitution and a marked ascendancy of women into leadership. A moving photographic portrait of the hard work of reconciliation is newly published in the New York Times.
“The story of U.S. policy during the genocide in Rwanda is not a story of willful complicity with evil,” wrote Samantha Power in 2001, in her now-landmark essay, Bystanders to Genocide. “U.S. officials did not sit around and conspire to allow genocide to happen. But whatever their convictions about ‘never again,’ many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow genocide to happen.”
The book is a meticulously researched portrait of U.S. inaction throughout the 20thcentury – despite the growth of human rights groups, the advent of instant communications and the erection of the Holocaust Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. “Rwandan Hutus in 1994 could freely, joyfully and systematically slaughter 8,000 Tutsis a day for 100 days without any foreign interference,” Power writes.
All the while, the Clinton Administration blocked deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, worked actively in diplomatic circles to suppress the “G-word” (genocide) and “refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide,” Power writes.
In “Less than Human,” David Livingstone Smith picks up on these radio broadcasts as essential fodder to the dehumanization that made the Rwandan genocide possible. His book won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in 2012, and is the basic text for the Anisfield-Wolf course at Case Western Reserve University: Reading Social Justice.
As the world remembers the antithesis of social justice – wholesale butchery of a people – both Power and Smith exemplify how sober scholarship can illustrate the circumstances that unleash new killing fields. Smith is a professor of philosophy at the University of New England; Power has become the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
As guests began to trickle in to the Ohio Theater at Playhouse Square, an older woman surveyed the crowd and winked at me. “Good—not everyone here has gray hair,” she said.
I was on hand to see Stephen L. Carter, the third author to come to Cleveland for the Writers Center Stage series, sponsored by the Cuyahoga County Public Library and Case Western Reserve University. My father introduced me to his work by keeping his nose in a well-worn copy of The Emperor of Ocean Park, winner of a 2003 Anisfield-Wolf award for fiction.
The Yale law professor, 58, warmed up the crowd with a few quips about football, poking fun of his favorite team, whose name “no one says any more.”
A graduate of both Yale and Stanford, Carter began his career as a law clerk for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson, III, of the United States Court of Appeals, and then to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States. His relationship with Marshall taught him valuable lessons, one of which is “being strategic in which battles you’re willing to fight,” he said. He spoke at length of his reverence for the justice, who, Carter recalled, was able to praise the opposition in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, which Marshall served as lead counsel.
Transitioning from law to a career as a writer wasn’t difficult, Carter told the crowd of almost 500. “All lawyers do is somewhat fiction,” he quipped, drawing a laugh from the crowd. However, he did acknowledge his lawyer training taught him to anticipate the “What ifs,” which translates to skillfully keeping the reader surprised at the plot twists in his novels.
Crafting his most recent novel, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, which explores what might have happened if Lincoln survived the assassination attempt, took months of deep digging. “I like to get my facts right. I used photos, maps, personal diaries…anything I could. I wanted to capture an authentic D.C.” He called the process of writing novels “emotional agony,” but enjoyed the satisfaction from completing them.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, an audience member alluded to the government stalemate in Washington and asked what, if anything, voters could do to improve civility at the federal level. “Civility will come to politics when people decide it’s more important than the outcome,” he responded. “Politics ought to appeal to the best in us and hardly ever does. The best thing we can do is have a greater involvement in local politics, where our votes really matter.”
Sometimes we see a longer video on YouTube and we consider passing on promoting it here because honestly, who wants to watch a 40+ minute video? People generally don’t have that kind of time. But we really like this video of 2003 winner Stephen L. Carter at the 2012 National Book Festival presented by the Library of Congress. Just from the introduction, we’re reminded that this guy is pretty spectacular.
Check out the video (just pieces of it – we know you’re busy!) and let us know if you’ve read his latest book, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln.
2003 winner Stephen L. Carter grants an interview with Glenn Reynolds, of InstaVision to talk about his latest book, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln and whether he thinks America’s obsession with Lincoln has anything to do with the current political climate.
We’ve got a summer reading list a mile long and another title just got added to the pile. Stephen L. Carter, awarded the 2003 Anisfield-Wolf Award for fiction for his page-turner The Emperor of Ocean Park, is back with another title sure to be just as riveting.
In his summer release, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, Carter explores what could have happened if Lincoln survived his assassination attempt. In this quick video with USA Today, Carter talks about being a history buff, whether the research was fun, and whether he prefers print books or ebooks.