In a recent email, my Swedish cousin enthused about the election of President Barack Obama: "That is a great difference from [George Bush], who grew up in a state with one star on the flag in Texas to Obama, who knows that there are many stars all over the world." My cousin's words reflect an international sense of relief as President Obama departs from the preceding administration by recognizing that the U.S. is part of an interdependent world. In his inaugural address, Obama stressed this sense of interconnection as our world shrinks:
"[W]e know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth; and... that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."
This sense of interconnectedness also informs the vision of Charles Johnson, a Pollock Endowed Professor for Excellence in English at UW. Johnson seeks to broaden views of African-American identity and selfhood and move from a literature of complaint to one of celebration, recognizing the "inescapable network of mutuality" of humanity described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1963 "Letter from the Birmingham Jail."
Johnson's renowned fiction offers a striking blend of philosophy, myth, history and his own Buddhist spiritual beliefs. His novels include the National Book Award-winning epic of the slave trade "Middle Passage," a moving homage to Dr. King's life in "Dreamer," and the acclaimed critical work "Being and Race: Black Writing since 1970." A MacArthur Fellow, Johnson recently spoke at his UW office about the election of President Obama and this sea-change moment in history.
How did you feel when the networks projected on Nov. 4 that Obama would be the 44th president?
That day I wasn't watching television that much. I thought we might not know until the next day who the winner was, but I was delightfully surprised that Obama wrapped it up early on Election Day. The electoral vote was overwhelming. It was something we've never seen in the history of this country.
The New York Times called the election of Obama a "national catharsis."
There was a lot of celebration on election night. I got a video of celebrating at the Faire [Gallery Caf