. . . for hope we don't need certainty, only POSSIBILITY.
~ Howard Zinn
Brooklyn-born activist, historian, author, playwright, and professor Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States (first published in 1980, it sold several million copies and continues to be used), had an extraordinary life. A shipyard worker and Air Force bombardier during World War II, he earned a doctorate in history and subsequently was appointed head of the history department at Spelman College. After the college fired him, Zinn taught political science at Boston University until he retired. Highly political aware, he both observed and participated in the radical politics of the 1960s, most notably in the founding activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and in the civil rights movement in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. In addition to a Lannan Foundation award for nonfiction, Zinn received the Eugene V. Debs award for writing and political activism.
On the occasion of Zinn's death in 2010, poet, essayist, and translator Martin Espada, who describes Zinn as "a very dear friend of mine" and the most decent, most generous human being I have ever known", wrote a poem to honor Zinn. It became one of two. The first, Espada said, "didn't quite say what I wanted it to say. I had to wait almost three years to find the words I wanted to say, words of farewell, words of thanks." It is that second poem that Espada reads during his interview with Bill Moyers broadcast earlier this year (see second video below). It's a wonderful reading of a wonderful poem whose intimate and concrete details speak to who Zinn was.
The poem "Castles for the Laborers and Ball Games on the Radio" appeared in the special "Living Our Values" issue of The Progressive in January of this year.
Espada, also a political activist who appeared in the Zinn documentary The People Speak, is the author of at least 18 collections of poems, translations, and essays. His most recent book of poems is The Trouble Ball (W.W. Norton, 2011; paperback, 2012). A professor in the English department of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Espada is the recipient of numerous awards. His is an important and inspiring voice. A sampling of his poems is here (others may be found online, along with readings on YouTube), and excerpts from his 2007 talk with Moyers are here. In a podcast with Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive, Espada talks about The Trouble Ball.
The 2013 Moyers interview with Espada is excellent. Espada eloquently talks about the place of poetry and the poetic tradition, as well as poetry's relationship to politics in the world today.
. . . there are times when poets have to go to places that cannot
be explained away as a matter of evidence and logic.
That we have to be able to reach out and put our hands on
the intangible, to feel it to see it.
. . . [With poetry,] we are breaking through the boundaries
of what we accept as a given every single day.
And we see something else as possible.
~ Martin Espada
"Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (Video) The book of the same name can be found on Amazon, along with many other of Zinn's works.
The People Speak (Documentary)
Howard Zinn on FaceBook