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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Power of Words: Writers Helping Japan

A week ago I was hanging out in NYC, visiting my favorite Japanese haunts, nibbling Japanese pastries with my editors at Viking. Inspired by my trip and my editorial meeting, eager to travel to Japan through my novel, I plunged into my revisions. And then Japan plunged into disaster.

For awhile I toggled back and forth between two screens: my Word doc and online news reports. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing on the news. The fictional dream began to recede. My novel began to feel silly. Teen girls chasing gangsters and drawing manga? Good grief. Who cares? In the real Japan, families were being rent apart. Lives were being lost. Nuclear power plants were exploding and leaking.

I took some action. I donated some money. I checked in with friends who have family in Japan; thankfully all are fine. I watched a lot of news. And then I had to take a break from news.

It's easy for all of us, but particularly for writers and artists, to start feeling helpless or insignificant in the face of disaster, of suffering or loss of life on a large scale. I know I wish I could take stronger action and do more. If I were a medical professional, I might board the next plane. If I were a nuclear physicist I'd lend my brain cells to solving the problem of fending off a meltdown.

But then I started getting tweets about YA author Maureen Johnson's innovative Shelterbox fundraiser. Shelterbox is an international disaster relief charity that provides disaster victims with boxes containing shelter-building materials and other survival gear. In the wake of the New Zealand earthquake, Johnson held a Twitter drive. Authors donated prizes, fans bid on them and donated, and $15,000 was raised for Shelterbox. With almost no planning, her initiative was repeated for Japan relief efforts, and she raised almost that same amount for Shelterboxes in just a few days.

I'm inspired by how high-profile authors can use their visibility to raise this kind of money in such a short amount of time, and how everyone can participate in such an initiative, at any level - by donating money, donating prizes, or just spreading the word. And that is why wordsmiths should not be humbled by large-scale relief efforts out in the Real World. Wordsmiths should use the power of the word to help out in times of need.

Here are some other writers and people in the book business -- as well as artists in other media -- who are helping to raise money or raise awareness. They are contributing their time, talent and energy to help Japan. I'd love to learn of other individuals or organizations who are involved in creative fundraising initiatives. Please add them as comments and help spread the word!

Amazon.com -- Provides an easy way to make Red Cross Donations on their site 

Authors for Japan (UK; online auction - authors and publishing professionals donating prizes -- closes 3/20) 

Art for Japan Auctions (various artists donating works; many links here)

Japan L.A. / #prayforjapan Art Show (fundraiser, Los Angeles, 3/19-4/4)

New York - Asia Week - many galleries / art shows are turning into fundraising events

Write Hope (a group of Kidlit writers auctioning kidlit books, critiques, and other prizes for donation to Save the Children's emergency relief fund)

(As always, please do your research on any charitable donation before sending money!)

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