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12/25/02 - WRITERS ON AMERICA - 2002-12-26

Better understanding among peoples is essential to world peace. And some of the most effective contacts between countries are conducted not by professional diplomats but by ordinary citizens -- business people, educators, artists, writers, even tourists. Through such exchanges, people from different countries can learn a great deal about each other.

The United States sponsors many programs to bring visitors to the U.S. and to send Americans abroad. And through its embassies around the world, the U.S. provides a wealth of information about life in America and American values to people in other countries.

Recently, the U.S. State Department began distributing a booklet of essays on the experience on being a writer in America. The fifteen contributors include four winners of the Pulitzer prize. Many of the writers are also expected to travel to various countries to speak about their craft. They write about America as a land of freedom and opportunity -- and also for some, at times, a place of hardship. A land where tolerance is highly valued -- but where people and institutions have not always lived up to that high ideal.

Many of the writers grew up in families with little money. Some immigrated to the U.S. or had parents who were immigrants or are members of minority groups. Some took part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s -- and all have been affected by it. This was a period when America finally ended legal racial discrimination against blacks.

Julia Alvarez came to the U.S. as a girl from the Dominican Republic. She writes: “As the 1960s progressed into the ‘70s, the country around me began to change. . . . Citizens were challenging America to be true to its promises. . . . Freedom was the opportunity to shape a country, to contribute to the ongoing experiment, never tried before, of making out of the many, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

Americans continue to struggle to improve themselves and their country -- just as people elsewhere do. As African-American writer Charles Johnson put it, “I’ve always seen my American life as an adventure of learning and growth and service. In this country, no individual or group, white or black, could tell me not to dream. Or censor me. Or prevent me from laboring until those dreams. . .became reality.”