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Dammit, y’all.

Dammit, y’all, I was going to blog something grammar-nerdy this week, something about the social benefits of precise writing and care with language.

I want so badly to write about the old, refined, kind-of-silly concerns—how proper punctuation helps social cohesion, why Bob Dylan should not have won the Novel Prize for Literature, why a barbecue restaurant that lets you choose your own sauce is an abomination—concerns worthy of a civilized and fully functioning society.

These weeks, though, our concerns have to be more fundamental.

Last Tuesday, men wearing the colors and insignia of the Proud Boys went and barged into a public library in Wilmington, not to read or research but to try to disrupt a Pride Month children’s story time.

No one was injured, but parents reported feeling intimidated, which was the Proud Boys’ goal.

The Proud Boys were prominently involved in both the January 6, 2021, riot at the United States Capitol, and in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. People were injured—people were killed—in both those instances. By now, the Proud Boys’ mere appearance, like that of the Klan and the Brown Shirts before them, carries with it the threat of violence.

The North Carolina Writers’ Network stands by the statement we made after Charlottesville: “They stand against everything the Network stands for: inclusion, connection, a broad and open community, free expression, excellence of expression, creativity. They fear the multiplicity of voices we seek to encourage.

“They try to intimidate. Writers try to understand. They are cowards who shun the open exchange of ideas, hiding in mobs and violence and the anonymity of the Internet. Writers open themselves to critique and argument with every word we publish. They resort to brute force. We believe in the power of words.”

We still will have the time and place to nerd out over words and their uses, over the symbols we interpret as pauses and full stops, over the subtle differences in sound and meaning that distinguish good writing from bad. All that is important—so important, I would argue, that our carelessness with them is part of what led us to weeks like these, to masked men trying to frighten small children from hearing stories about love in the actual world.

This blog post was written by Ed Southern and published on his behalf by Katherine O’Hara.

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