Letter from the Editor

By Gabriel Ertsgaard

It’s been a little over three years now since Wim Laven, Emma Lovejoy, and I joined the Peace Chronicle staff as part of Shatha Almutawa’s vision to transform the PJSA newsletter into a PJSA magazine. Our publications chair, Matt Johnson, was also part of that initial team. Early on, we were all still figuring out our roles. I was listed as activism section editor for the first issue, and in that capacity interviewed Amira Abouhussein of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy. That experience provided some clarity regarding what my role should be, so I’ve been the interviews editor ever since. Emma started with us as an editorial intern, but has acted as our production manager from the beginning. Eventually, their official title caught up with their responsibilities. As for Wim, he took on a heavy load with those early issues and was the natural choice to step in as editor in chief after Shatha moved on. Since then, he has provided us a steadier hand at the helm than Wim himself often appreciates.

Around the time that Wim took over as editor in chief, I started pitching the idea of a themed issue on narrative. “What do you think of these upcoming themes?” he would ask. “They’re great,” I’d reply, “but when are we doing an issue on narrative?” “Should I reach out to Rivera Sun to arrange an interview?” he would ask. “Not yet,” I’d reply, “I want to save her for the issue on narrative. When are we doing that one?” After being asked some variation of “so are we ever going to do a narrative issue?” for the half-dozenth time, Wim finally answered, “Yes. And I think you should be the guest editor for it.” Thus it came to pass. (Always one to cast a wide net, Wim also brought Michelle Collins-Sibley on board, who provided valuable insights during the early planning stages for this issue.)

Having anticipated this issue for so long, I’m incredibly pleased with how it turned out, and that’s thanks to our amazing roster of contributors. We open with the short story “A White Sky with Black Stars” by Natalie Keller, which first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Mirror Dance. This fairy tale, here reprinted with authorial revisions, emphasizes the power of truth and civil resistance as heroic action. These are also the key themes of Konrad Hodgman’s essay “Truth-force, Not Truth-By-Force,” the winning entry of Ashland University’s 2022 Martin Luther King Day Writing and Communication Center contest. Despite being written in very different genres, there’s a powerful resonance between these two pieces when read side-by-side.

Three more works of creative writing follow. This first is mine, a philosophical dialogue that riffs on the story of the “Three Little Pigs” to explore some basic ideas of conflict transformation theory. This work also reflects my personal premise about the dialogue genre; namely, that it occupies an intermediary space between drama and essay. Next comes Lauren Michelle Levesque’s lovely free verse poem “Wooden Buttons and Teal Thread,” a testimony of resilience in the face of our ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The final piece of this creative cluster is the nineteenth century abolitionist poem “Eliza Harris” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, which tells of a slave mother’s flight to freedom with her infant son. An important African American writer and activist, Harper is less well remembered than she deserves to be. This seems a good opportunity to resurrect her voice.

Next we have a cluster of pedagogy articles. The first is Vanessa Meng’s “Little Dragons for a Better World, Part 1.” An independent writing teacher and recipient of the first PJSA Mini-Grant, Vanessa describes her virtual summer camp for Asian and Asian-American children which focused on social justice writing. She also shares a portfolio of her student’s work. The article title is aspirational, as we hope to see more “Little Dragons” contributions based on the themes of future issues. This is followed by the first in another new series. PJSA member Julia Skeen has struck on the wonderful idea of interviewing our board members, starting with the newer ones. Her first interview subject is Michelle Harris, our new Mini-Grants Program Co-Coordinator. Michelle discusses future plans for the Mini-Grants Program as well as her own work in peace pedagogy and restorative justice.

Our final pedagogy article comes from Kyra Whitehead, who also created this issue’s cover art. Kyra, who teaches ESL and Graphic Design courses for  Wenzhou-Kean University in China, explains both the basic features of her narrative peacebuilding pedagogy and how she adapted her curriculum for the virtual classroom during the COVID-19 epidemic. Kyra insists that “design is storytelling,” which certainly resonates with our last creative contribution for the issue. Mike Klein shares photographs of his sculpture “We Are All Downstream,” currently on public display in Dubuque, Iowa, along with a meditation that explores the sculpture’s meaning. Both a critique of colonialism and a testimony to interconnection, Mike’s work is a powerful reminder that narrative goes beyond the verbal.

Next come a pair of poetics articles. In “Solarpunk and Peace Poetics,” I look at examples of civil resistance and conflict transformation in an emerging fiction genre. Solarpunk leans more toward optimism than pessimism, and so may prove especially fertile ground for peace studies influences. After that comes my interview with Rivera Sun. (Holding out to feature her in this issue paid off!) Perhaps no one has thought more deeply than Rivera about how to marry peace studies with the craft of fiction writing. That certainly shows in this interview. She notes that her personal reading list includes civil resistance case studies, and these influence what she is able to imagine in fictional worlds. We see a similar confluence of praxis with theoretical reflection in Selina Gallo-Cruz’s excellent book review of Catholic Peacebuilding and Mining. Published by Routledge and edited by Caesar A. Montevecchio and Gerald F. Powers, this book should provide valuable inspiration to writers, scholars, and activists alike.

The last article, “Narratology and Narrative Change: Defining Terms,” is also one of mine. Given my other pieces, I hesitated over whether to include this one. The truth is, I wanted to have something about narrative change work in this issue, but ran out of time in which to find another contributor. Writing my own piece on the topic seemed like the lesser sin. I’ve attempted to provide a “translation key” to facilitate interdisciplinary exchange between the fields of narratology and narrative change work. I hope that those already familiar with the latter field will find my modest contribution useful, and that those new to the field will be inspired to learn more.

From peace education to creative literature and art to practical activism, narrative pervades our work for peace and justice. The contributions in this issue reflect that range. I’m proud to shepherd it into your hands, or at least onto your screen, and grateful to everyone whose hard work made this possible.


Gabriel Ertsgaard is the Interviews Editor for The Peace Chronicle and Copy Editor for the literary journal Drifting Sands. He earned his Doctor of Letters from Drew University with a dissertation on environmental themes in a medieval legend. He has taught college-level English courses in the United States and China. His criticism, poetry, and fairy tales have appeared in over a dozen publications.