Must Be Written Later

October 15, 2020 @ Reimersholme hotel

On May 8, 1934, longshoremen coordinate a series of strikes along the US West Coast, from San Diego to Seattle. They are protesting against poor working conditions, and for union recognition. The strikes culminate on Thursday, July 5, known as the “Bloody Thursday”, when shipowners attempt to reopen the San Francisco harbor by force. Two persons are killed and many are injured when police attack the protestors using guns, gas, and truncheons. The following week, San Francisco harbor is paralyzed by a General strike, and during the fall strikes and manifestations follow across the USA. These events signal the emergence of a new social movement: the American Popular Front.

A young writer named Tillie Lerner (later Olsen) is in San Francisco on July 5, 1934. Overwhelmed by the violent scenes, she writes “The Strike”, an account of the events at the harbor, in which she differentiates between writing and political action: “I write this on a battlefield. / The rest, the General Strike, the terror, arrests and jail, the songs in the night, must be written some other time, must be written later…” The text is a stirring report from a decisive political event that points away from writing, postpones its ability to intervene. A separation between writing and political struggle that Tillie Olsen would maintain for many years, while remaining fully devoted to both.

Must Be Written Later draws on Olsen’s text, now published in Swedish translation. It is a report on literary writing and political activism, on class struggle and revenge, on the delays of art and the functions of the strike. With readings, presentations, artistic contributions, and critical commentaries by the American, Paris-based poet Jackqueline Frost, as well as Elof Hellström, Martin Högström, Ingela Johansson, Emma Kihl, and Kim West, we invite to common reflection regarding another central event in the cultural history of anti-fascism.

Must Be Written Later is the second in a series of reports produced by the independent research group Agentur, within the framework of the research project The Aesthetics of the Popular Fronts. The reports take the form of public events, arranged at different places and institutions in Sweden and abroad during the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2021; videos based on documentation of the events, directed by Agentur, and published on digital platforms; and printed publications, produced in collaboration with a number of Swedish and international publishing houses, platforms, and magazines.