★ History and the art of the possible: Beth Macy at Book No Further

Beth Macy appeared at Book No Further this weekend to celebrate the opening of Doloris Vest’s new bookstore and the paperback release of Macy’s second book, Truevine (Back Bay Books, 2017).

bmacyIn presenting the motivation behind her work, the Roanoke based author points to the unexpected heroes she’s drawn to. They fight the odds—against racial injustice, against the industry-crushing dumping of international goods, against the wholesale release of opioids in a rural community, and against the losses of a region in a globalized economy. The stories play out over years, and she says she gained access to them, “only by being rooted in one place over decades.”

Macy’s view over those decades and her deep exploration of generations in one place is a gift of hope. We need these stories of an illiterate maid fighting for her sons, a Galax furniture maker committed to local manufacturing, and small town leaders fighting a scourge of drugs in their community. We need these stories of improbable victories, for they fuel more improbable victories, and too often, they aren’t told.

In the forward to the newest edition of Hope in the Dark (Haymarket Books, 2016), historian Rebecca Solnit shows us what happens without this history. “The status quo would like you to believe it is immutable, inevitable, and invulnerable, and lack of memory of a dynamically changing world reinforces this view. In other words, when you don’t know how much things have changed, you don’t see that they are changing or that they can change.” And if you don’t think things can change, you don’t fight.

Macy’s books reinforce our agency. They shore up our will to work against the odds, inspiring us to play our own meaningful and necessary role in the community. We can, they tell us, shape our society.

Take the local bookstore. It’s been called a post-Amazon dinosaur. Many have written off what was an important third place—a place for gathering and community, a place for discussion and thought, a place worthy of us. In a small space in 16 West Marketplace, Doloris Vest sees possibility at the horizon. There’s something worth working toward, and it’s just beyond the obstacles and challenges too often presented by the well-intentioned as insurmountable. Their cautionary advice is offered with something like, “That’s just the way it is today.”

But, Doloris asks, will it be that way tomorrow? And then she gets to work.

Thanks, Beth, and good luck, Doloris. We believe it’s possible.

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