What is a writer?

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With the images etched in my mind of last week’s scathing report on Ferguson issued by the Department of Justice alongside this weekend’s march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge led by President Obama, I got to thinking about heroes and heroines, past and present, throughout world history, many of whom paid the ultimate price in the fight against oppression. Among them I thought about Rosa Parks, the Freedom Fighters, and yes, Dr. King, Ghandi, Biko and Mandella.

I also thought about all those we don’t know and never will; the ones who were whisked off under the cover of night, shot or lynched, and tossed unceremoniously into southern rivers or unmarked graves.

I also thought about the brave writers who dared to put pen words which bought life to the human experience, sometimes under the threat of violence or of death itself.

It is here where I arrived at the question, what is a writer? from “Crux – a conversation in the words and images of South Africa to South USA,” – by Deena Padsayachee (written at the funeral of Kessie Govender, South Africa).

What is a writer?

In his writing he strips himself, revealing deep undercurrents and ideas, inspiring, stimulating, entertaining, educating, helping but also upsetting, challenging, threatening.

What is a writer?

He has to be a masochist in South Africa. He strips away the camouflage, tears at the spin stories, the brainwashing, leaves it all bare.

He sees through the lies, the deception, the clouds of untruth.

He stabilizes, he upsets…he churns the placid life of the sheep, the cows.

He cares little about himself.

His family is neglected.

He endures reactions from the Establishment as a matter of course.

He is a natural martyr.

Not for him, chasing the buck.

He is society’s living thermometer, microscope, stethoscope, MRI Scanner, revealing what society would rather not know.

Few understand him.

His phone is cut off.

His car breaks down.

His wife deserts him.

He never has enough money.

But his blood is in the eyes of tomorrow’s children. His heart is in their laughter.

His Spirit is in every rebel who challenges oppression, every person who tries to make a difference, every stand against oppression, autocracy and authoritarinism.

The writer never dies. He lives on in ideas which ferment throughout history.

He understands too much,

He sees too much,

He loves too much.

He talks too much.

In his living we have our inspiration.

For us…….He is an elixir!


Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, corporate story-teller, trainer and senior associate at Diversity Wealth. He is based in Douglasville, Georgia and can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com.

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