Beacon Press: Craft and Conscience
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Craft and Conscience

How to Write About Social Issues

Author: Kavita Das

The first major book for writers to more effectively engage with complex socio-political issues—a critical first step in creating social change

Writers are witnesses and scribes to society’s conscience but writing about social issues in the twenty-first century requires a new, sharper toolkit. Craft and Conscience helps writers weave together their narrative craft, analytical and research skills, and their conscience to create prose which makes us feel the individual and collective impact of crucial issues of our time. Kavita Das guides writers to take on nuanced perspectives and embrace intentionality through a social justice lens. She challenges writers to unpack their motivations for writing about an issue and to understand that “writing, irrespective of genre or outlet, is an act of political writing,” regardless of intention.

The book includes essays from a fascinating mix of authors, including James Baldwin, Alexander Chee, Kaitlyn Greenidge, George Orwell, Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz, Gaiutra Bahadur, Jaquira Díaz, and Imani Perry. By including Das’s own perspective and those of the featured writers about motivations and approaches to writing about fraught social issues, this book both demystifies the process of engaging social issues on the page, and underscores the intentionality and sensitivity that must go into the work.
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“Through concise language and well-chosen excerpts, Das delivers a one-of-a-kind writing guide that’s pitch-perfect for her niche. Activists ready to put pen to paper won’t want to miss this.”
Publishers Weekly

“Das’s rare gift is her ability to demystify a subject of so much anxiety and debate.”
—Ali Sharpe, LIBER

“A useful primer for writers who are newer to writing about social change, regardless of their overall writing experience . . . Those steeped in social justice discourse will encounter many familiar concepts and references, all of which can lead to new or deepened insights upon being revisited.”
Hippocampus Magazine

Craft and Conscience is that rigorously researched and lushly written ‘How-to’ book that every single human who has dared to write needs in our lives. . . . Rarely do we get books that encourage readers to reconsider how we read and write. Intellectually and soulfully invigorating.”
—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy

“A gift to writers and justice seekers everywhere! Craft and Conscience is a handbook for how to wield words to shape culture and inspire change.”
—Valarie Kaur, civil rights leader and author of See No Stranger

“Das constructs a vocabulary, a methodology, and an ethics for socially engaged writing, while bringing together a staggering range of writers and issues. . . . This book has restored my faith in the written word.”
—Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings

“Das gathers up a wide-ranging and whip-smart array of thinkers while serving us a feast of timely advocacy and learning.”
—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of World of Wonders

“Kavita Das has assembled a vital primer on writing with purpose, a guidebook that our turbulent times demand.”
—Jabari Asim, author of We Can’t Breathe

“A book of phenomenal intelligence, generosity, and wisdom, and indispensable for the classroom and for anyone who wants to make words matter.”
—Marie Mutsuki Mockett, author of American Harvest

“Brilliant! A must-read for anyone who cares deeply about social and political issues and wants to make their own voice heard.”
—Laurie Gwen Shapiro, author of The Stowaway

“Kavita Das orients us with great precision to the many contradictory considerations that nonfiction writers face. . . . I found myself reading and nodding in agreement, thinking: yes, that’s exactly right!”
—Daisy Hernández, author of The Kissing Bug

“A fascinating and forceful guide to stepping up and speaking out on the page.”
—Susan Shapiro, author of The Byline Bible

“An instructive guide for writers hoping to move the needle.”
—Matthew Salesses, author of Craft in the Real World

“Kavita Das’s book is part how-to, part call to action. . . . It is more needed than ever.”
—S. Mitra Kalita, founder and publisher of Epicenter NYC and cofounder of URL Media

“For writers seeking guidance on how to write about social justice with compassion and insight.”
—Tanaïs, author of In Sensorium

Foreword, by Mira Jacob

Why We Write: Interrogating Our Motivations for Writing About Social Issues

· “Why I Write,” by George Orwell
· “Autobiographical Notes,” from Notes of a Native Son, by James Baldwin
· “Ellaji and Lakshmiji,” by Kavita Das

How We Are All Connected: Understanding the Relationship Between the Writer, Reader, and Subject

· “Tramp,” by Kavita Das
· “Jyoti’s Rainbow,” by Kavita Das
· “Black and Blue,” by Garnette Cadogan
· “Football, Free on the Streets,” by Garnette Cadogan

Diving In Deep or Casting Wide: Considering Context Versus Narrative to Shape Our Stories

· “Red Ink of Revisionist History,” by Kavita Das
· “Selective Perception of Disinformation,” by Kavita Das
· “Introduction: This Land,” from An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
· From “Fear” in Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, by Imani Perry
· “How Could I Write About Women Whose Existence Is Barely Acknowledged?” by Gaiutra Bahadur

Writing from Outside In or Inside Out: Reporting, Personal Narrative, or a Hybrid Approach

· “COVID-19 Vaccine: What White Conservatives Can Learn from Black Americans,” by Kavita Das
· “A Virulent Privilege,” by Kavita Das
· “La Otra,” adapted from Ordinary Girls, by Jaquira Díaz
· “The School-to-Prison Pipeline Is Getting Worse for Black and Brown Girls,” by Jaquira Díaz
· “99 Years After the Tulsa Race Massacre, an Artist Reflects,” by Crystal Z Campbell

Staking a Claim: Writing Opinion Pieces (Op-Eds)

· “The Anti-Vaxxer Threat amid a Pandemic,” by Kavita Das
· “Tolerance Has a Fatal Flaw. This Is the Solution,” by Kavita Das
· “Stories of Transracial Adoptees Must Be Heard—Even Uncomfortable Ones,” by Nicole Chung
· “The Specter of Caste in Silicon Valley,” by Yashica Dutt

Are You the Right Storyteller for This Story?: Understanding Cultural Sensitivity and Avoiding Cultural Appropriation

· Introduction and Conclusion from White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue . . . and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation, by Lauren Michele Jackson
· “Who Gets to Write What?” by Kaitlyn Greenidge
· “How to Unlearn Everything: When It Comes to Writing the ‘Other,&rsrquo; What Questions Are We Not Asking?” by Alexander Chee
· “Who Gets to Write About Whom: Examining Authority, Authenticity, and Appropriation in Biography,” by Kavita Das

Ripple Effects of Making Waves: Implications (Good and Bad) of Writing About Social Issues

· “Writers Shouldn’t Romanticize Rejection,” by Kavita Das
· “Recovering My Fifth Sense,” by Kavita Das
· “There Is No One Way,” by Alice Wong
· “Stepping on a Star,” from We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, by Gabrielle Bellot

Recommended Resources
About Kavita Das, Author
About Mira Jacob, Foreword Writer
About the Contributors

See below for a reading guide or download as a PDF.

Craft and Conscience: How to Write About Social Issues,By Kavita Das

Discussion Guide 


1)      The book begins with the question “Is all writing political?” Das explains why she believes all writing is political irrespective of the intention of the writer. Do you believe all writing is political? Why or why not?

2)      In the first chapter, Das urges you to examine your motivations for writing about a social issue. What are your motivations for writing about a social issue? What are your goals and hopes for your writing?

3)      In chapters 2 and 3, Das discusses the relationship between the writer, reader, and their subject and the balance between context and narrative. As a reader, do you prefer writing that focuses more on context or narrative? Why? As a writer, does your writing focus more on context or narrative? Why?

4)      Chapter 4 discusses the differences between writing from the outside in (reported perspective) and writing from the inside out (personal perspective). Which do you prefer as a reader? Which do you prefer as a writer? Why?

5)      Das examines notions of neutrality, objectivity, and the search for the truth in writing. Do you believe neutrality and objectivity are requirements for good journalistic writing on social issues? In your mind, how are they similar to or different from searching for the truth?

6)      Have you changed your mind about a social issue after reading an essay, a book, or an opinion piece? What was it that made you change your mind: new information, a new perspective, an emotional connection?

7)      What steps, if any, do you take to be more culturally sensitive, in writing and in life? What are your own thoughts on cultural appropriation? Do you believe it is harmful and something that writers and artists should avoid, or do you believe they should have unfettered artistic freedom? Why?

8)      Do you believe writing can inspire social change? Do you believe writing can have negative consequences?

9)      What possible implications, positive or negative, are there for your own writing on social issues?

10)  Do you believe conscience is an essential part of the craft of creative writing? Why or why not?

Craft and Conscience

ISBN: 978-080704649-4
Publication Date: 10/4/2022
Size:5.5 x 8.5 Inches (US)
Price:  $19.95
Format: Paperback
Availability: In stock.
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