Círdan’s Note: Grey Havens YA just finished discussing our fourth book, Epic by Conor Kostick. Robyn, our co-director, also recently finished an old book she acquired at Readcon: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. She wanted to share these thoughts with you.
Here at Grey Havens YA, we place tremendous value on the imagination. We often say, “Nothing was ever made by human hands or realized in the intellect that was not first conceived of in the imagination,” and you can read more about that on our about page.
Dr. Azar Nafisi writes of the importance of imagination and literature in her memoir:
“I have this recurring fantasy that one more article has been added to the Bill of Rights: the right to free access to imagination. I have come to believe that genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and the right to use imaginative works without any restrictions. To have a whole life, one must have the possibility of publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we existed, felt, desired, hated, feared?
“We speak of facts, yet facts exist only partially to us if they are not repeated and re-created through emotions, thoughts and feelings. To me it seemed as if we had not really existed, or only have existed, because we could not imaginatively realize ourselves and communicate to the world, because we had used works of imagination to serve as handmaidens to some political ploy.”
This passage made me think both of the world in Epic and the world of Grey Haven YA. The characters of Epic play a game, a game that is not played or explored for pleasure, but rather studied and completed for the sake of government. The game is the government, it’s how those in power control the people. At the end of the novel, we glimpse a possibility for a new way of government, and we talked about this in depth at our last meeting.
We talked about how the powerful in Epic seek to control the universities, and Kelly and I mentioned the idea that if you control the universities, you control the knowledge, the culture of the people. Nafisi faced this in real life in Tehran where she tried to teach literature for its own sake and not the government’s.
Even when learning about literature in the United States, one still has to fight for the beauty of it over the end result of a test score. A few of our members have told us that they don’t mind if we read books in the group that they’ve already studied in school because at Grey Havens YA, “We get to talk about the book a lot more and go deeper than we ever did in class.” It is a joy to see our YA members express their love for stories and to get to see them embrace imagination.
I don’t at all mean to downplay the horrors of the real government that Nafisi and her students faced in Tehran. What I mean to say is that I am so grateful for the insights in her book, and I am grateful that a group like Grey Havens YA exists where imagination can be encouraged and nurtured.
Our culture right now is obsessed with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, and our young adults are caught in the tension between wanting to create but also wanting to code. Many of them want to be both artists and scientists. Isn’t it true that there could be no STEM without first imagination? And to nurture the imagination, one must first nurture the value of story. I’m so honored that we get to do that here in Grey Havens YA.
As Albert Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
If you live in the Boulder County area and would like the chance to nurture your own imagination a little more while also helping out Grey Havens YA, stop by Lucky’s Market in Longmont on Saturday, November 21st from 11am-4pm to Gobble Up a Good Book. You can donate any amount and take home a mysterious wrapped book. We hope to see you there!
Send us an owl: What are you thoughts on the value of imagination?