Nikita Nelin

Story Weaver

Fiction.

Nonfiction..

Immersive Journalism...

Bio in the 3rd-person:

Nikita Nelin was born in Moscow, Russia and immigrated to the U.S in 1989. He has lived in Austria and Italy, and has traveled the U.S extensively. He received the 2010 Sean O’Faolain prize for short fiction, the 2011 Summer Literary Seminars prize for nonfiction, and the 2019 Dogwood Literary Prize in Nonfiction, as well as being chosen as a finalist for the 2017 Restless Books Immigrant prize and the 2018 Dzanc Books prize. His work has appeared in Southword Journal, Catamaran Literary Reader, Tablet Magazine, Joyland Magazine, Elephant Journal, Mission at Tenth, Electric Literature, and other publications. Nikita has conducted research through the Harriman Institute as well as translation through Yale Press, and has written on the convergence between fringe and at-large cultural trends for the Hannah Arendt Center. He holds an MFA in fiction from Brooklyn College, is a 2019 Associate Fellow at The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, and is a member of the Southern Experience Collective.

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Transforming Hate – A Perspective Leap

A Practical Workshop

“It is when race-thinking solidifies into racism that we face the “doom of the Western world, and, for that matter, of the whole of human civilization.”

Hannah Arendt

Originally designed as an addendum to the 2019 Hannah Arendt Conference the title of which is “Racism and Antisemitism,” the workshop has two primary goals; one outward facing and one inward facing. Outwardly it seeks to create the framework for forgiveness through the elements of creative writing. Inwardly it seeks to explore the challenges to forgiveness in one’s own mind. The inward goal is just as important as the outward as ultimately the participants are challenged to do personal work in service to the outward goal.

Our culture lacks rituals and practices for cultural healing and reunification, and as much as we would like to divide our collective traumas by the clear assignments of perpetrator and victim this dichotomy ultimately does not allow for the transformation and release of social complexes that is characteristic of authentic healing. And if we are to move forward and discover a more compassionate society, we must heal. This workshop is designed to do just that by utilizing the tools of creative writing.

Guiding Questions:

How does trauma travel across communities? How does hate solidify itself into a social complex? What role can forgiveness play in disarming the rigid complexes of racism and antisemitism? What does forgiveness look like? Ultimately this is a practical workshop where theoretical constructs are challenged through personal narrative and practical application.

Process:

The participants are asked to identify an instance of hate (racism or antisemitism) experienced in their own lives or that of family or near social group. Alternatively, it may be an event taken out from current affairs. They are then asked to write a short essay reflecting on this experience/event. After an initial debrief on the essay they will be asked to write a first-person story from the perspective of the perpetrator in the essay. I will walk the participants through a basic introduction to the elements of creative writing and the process of creating such a document and the imagination of its salient details. There is a thin veil between memory and imagination and the elements of creative writing can guide us on how to travel across it. Once the stories are complete we debrief again. A set of key details, potential analogies or metaphors, are pulled from the essay and story for each participant and they are asked to write a short poem sparked by the extracted set. This process is first modeled. The workshop concludes with a public reading.

Final Note:

It may be that we use the word compassion too liberally today without weighing the personal effort it requires. Compassion often calls to its purpose not a formulaic but a creative mind. One has to literally imagine themselves in another’s shoes. During turbulent times it is especially challenging to risk such a leap of imagination. To do so, we face not only the judgment of our in-group, but fear at what we may discover in the shadows of our own thoughts. It is important to remember that to acknowledge the humanity of another person does not equate to condoning their hateful behavior. The most basic challenge we face in this workshop is to hold a perspective wide enough to be able to witness both the fact of the hateful acts’ humans can produce, and the human within the production of the act.

Workshop Reading:

Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

Davis, Daryl, Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man's Odyssey through the Ku Klux Klan. New Horizon Press, 1998

Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Wallace, David Foster. This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion About Living a Compassionate Life. New York: Little, Brown, 2009.

Selections from 2019 Hannah Arendt Conference Anthology

If you would like to bring this to your organization, institution, or community, contact me directly at nikitanelin1@gmail.com

"Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels." 
                                                                                     Goya