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Tom Hallock: Genocide Prevention Month

Today's post is from Tom Hallock, Associate Publisher at Beacon Press.

The Indie Bound Red Box, The American Bookseller Association’s monthly In-store Action Kit, contained a flyer this month for a remarkable idea: Genocide Prevention Month. The ABA is teaming up with Genocide Prevention Month, a group of survivors and survivor advocates “to make sure history does not repeat itself.” Mitch Kaplan (owner of Books and Books in Coral Gables Florida), writing for the program, described his store's efforts to hold a commemoration event with genocide survivors in April and to organize a table display of books about genocide. A list of notable titles compiled by the ABA is available at www.bookweb.org/files/open/pdf/genocideprevention.pdf. The list includes general titles about genocide and others about Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda and the Holocaust.

Beacon's list also includes titles that speak to these issues: Man's Search for Meaning, Rena’s Promise, Walls and Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence. The author of one of these titles, Heather Dun Macadam, just sent me an article about research in the UK where some schoolchildren believe Auschwitz is the name of a type of beer or a religious festival, rather than a concentration camp. It’s evidence of the ongoing need for a program like Genocide Prevention Month.

Perhaps what's most remarkable is the underlying idea that independent booksellers have the power to bring a global concern to the attention of their communities-- and to create the kind of awareness that might help prevent such things from happening again. When I taught English in Beijing China fifteen years ago, I met an extraordinary pair of booksellers who were survivors of the Cultural Revolution. They had been branded rightists, sent to prison and, when they were released, opened a bookstore. It was their response to the chaos that had engulfed their lives. They wanted to create a space in which Chinese readers could find books about the world and create a new culture in which such a destructive mass movement could never again take root. They called the store San Wei, three flavors, a term used in the Qing dynasty to identify the three most important categories of books: history, poetry, and philosophy.

I thought it was a powerful and appropriate response. Genocide Prevention Month is a chance for all of us, as writers, publishers and booksellers, to exercise this same kind of power. It’s a chance to bring change to the world in one of the oldest ways-- by the sharing of stories.