Throughout Barrett Browning’s life, she (like more obviously, Dickens) wrote about issues ranging from slavery (“The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”) to feminism (Aurora Leigh itself). Yet close to the end of Aurora Leigh and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I read a poem that encapsulated the kinds of social action that poets and artists ought to do: “A Plea for the Ragged Schools of London.” She highlights those who speak well of the London of her era: the rich and the powerful. Then she speaks of those who speak of who describe it as cruel and uncaring: the powerless and dispossessed in other lands. Reading this I got no feeling that Elizabeth Barrett Browning did not love and care about England. No, her hurt was from a deeper place inside than that place of malice or hatred: she felt deeply for the people she believed were being hurt. And that place is the place from which I believe American writers should write about Ukraine and the Middle East.
The latter position is especially difficult for me because I am Jewish. I know that without Israel, there will be no Jewish people. And that places me immediately on the Jews’ side. This is though there are “liberal” people who are very anti-Israel, even anti-Jewish, like the New Yorker. Yet at the same time I do sympathize with the Palestinians this much: without Westbank they have no homeland, either. I really believe that Israel and Palestine have to learn to love each other–and that it hasn’t all been Palestine that hasn’t been doing the loving. That said, I believe Israel must exist for the Jewish people, because of the Holocaust, and despite the injury it would appear to do the Middle East…
Of course, there is more to the Middle East than the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I hope to write a book called In Honor of Khashoggi: “The Sheikh’s Wife” (a story about a sheikh’s widow, who was sufficiently younger than he was, who runs a tea shoppe)/Yusuf and Zuleika (A Medieval love story about a man who buys a female slave because he is in love with her–only for her to run away)/ A Woman Weaves Her Tales in Arabic (A young woman who weaves stories and rugs while teaching these skills to younger women)/ A Photographer’s Tale (a story about a man who was personally murdered by the crown prince)/Untitled-as-yet [Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen]/[a story about Syrian refugees, perhaps in France]/ A Picture of a Boy [about a picture of a boy who was murdered in Syria]. I long to say “something” about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but I do not know what. I hope it would not make the book portrayed as “anti-Arab” and not what Khashoggi would have wanted. I hope nobody will “steal” my ideas here.
The point is that Writers should seek out the ideas they think are most controversial and important to them. And though it may surprise people today, the Victorian writers did. Their writing was more than just justification of social order (as some people believe), it defined itself of asking questions like “How should a person live their life?” and “How should a govern politic be governed?”
So it is that my beloved is not upset about my book In Honor of Khashoggi after Tales from the Land of the Firebird. He is a Jew, and I dare say he is not lukewarm in his faith. Of course, I never wanted him to be. I also wanted to say… I wanted to write about the poor in this country–both in Kansas, where I am familiar with them, and in New York, where I hoped to research one book and then write a fantasy about them. The first one is Further Tales in Opossum Creek and the second one is an adolescent fantasy: Jeremy and Peninah.