Chris Al-Aswad was many things, writer, artist, editor, and his own kind of community organizer, as a builder of community through the generosity of his spirit and personality, through social media, and through the extraordinary online journal that is his legacy. When he died just weeks ago at the profoundly sad age of 31, the impact of his too short life immediately became apparent, and its meaning took shape. His death, like his life, quickly joined other events in demonstrating the transformative influence on the world of social media. As word of his loss spread across the web, the blogosphere, Facebook, and Twitter, the outpouring of emotion and tribute came from so many people who had never met him, many who had no idea what he looked like. But they had been touched even briefly by him, felt his influence, or through the journal, worked with him.
The online journal, which continues after him, is Escape into Life. As a lover of the art of titling, before I had ever looked at the publication of art, poetry, review, and essay, I was admiring and even envious. In three words how better to capture a commitment, a passion, a philosophy of how to live: escape into life.
One of the testaments to how Chris’s brief sojourn on the planet touched those who knew him is that within a matter of short weeks after his death, still only weeks ago, a prize was named in his honor – the Christopher Al-Aswad Prize. I am very pleased to report that the sad red earth has been named, today, to the shortlist for the prize, the winner to be announced on October 1.
As I wrote in reply when informed that this blog was to be listed, particularly for the work Julia Dean and I have been doing on American Indian life, Julia and I are humbled to be considered and honored by the name on the prize.
The prize is administered by Dan Holloway of Eight Cuts, Year Zero Writers, and Agnieszka’s Shoes. Like Chris, Dan is a person with a deep well of generous energy. Many creative people, maybe most, need all their resources just to fuel the engine of their own art. Some feed off collaboration. Still others create, collaborate, and are kind, supportive, inventive impresarios of the creations of others. Dan, like Chris, is that last. Like Chris, who lived in Chicago, I have never met Dan, who lives on an island, amidst a cold northern sea, with which we in colonial climes once had a spat or two. As with Chris, I have seen a photo of Dan, who appears similarly young, and who has a lot (Did I say a lot?) more hair than I do.
There is so much out there. And the Web brings it to you. Visit the links above. Visit the links to the other, impressive shortlisters. Click on links at their sites. Be led so far afield they’ll need to send a search party for you, and the fearful and unimaginative will wonder yet again if all this exploration is really worth it, maybe we should stick to our lives here at home.
Then we’ll launch again.