From the heart of darkness

Marlboro married grad students convince 40 authors to tell the story of the Darfur genocide pro bono
By Pamela H. Sacks

TELEGRAM & GAZETTE

2009


Luke and Jennifer Reynolds knew they had to find to a way to help the people of Darfur.

The conviction came over the Reynoldses three years ago, after reading articles and editorials about the genocide in Darfur, in the western region of Sudan.
“We had watched the movie `Hotel Rwanda,’” Mrs. Reynolds said. “We keep saying `never again,’ and these genocides are happening in the world. We wanted to do something besides sign a petition.”
“We felt terrible and powerless at the same time,” Mr. Reynolds said.
Mr. Reynolds, then a graduate student in English at Northern Arizona University, had considered putting together an anthology of essays by celebrated writers. His wife, who also was a graduate student, added another layer, suggesting that they donate the proceeds from the compilation to the Save Darfur Coalition, a nonprofit organization.
After three years of hard work, the couple’s anthology of 40 essays, titled “Dedicated to the People of Darfur: Writings on Fear, Risk and Hope,” will be published in the fall by Rutgers University Press. In recognition of their accomplishment, the Darfur coalition has named the Reynoldses its February “Darfur Heroes” for their creativity and fundraising abilities.
“The coalition is so appreciative of Luke and Jennifer’s generosity of their time and talent,” said Ashley Roberts, spokeswoman for the coalition. “They have created a lasting work that is a testament to the broad array of individuals working to help achieve sustainable peace for the Darfuri people.”
The couple persuaded Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer to contribute to the volume, as well as Pulitzer Prize winners Jane Smiley, Frank McCourt and James McPherson. The writers were asked to describe a time when they took a risk to make their lives and the lives of others better.
The Reynoldses, who now live in Marlboro, recalled that Mr. McCourt responded to their initial request for a submission with one word – “definitely.”
“We didn’t hear from him for months,” Mr. Reynolds said. “We sent more e-mails and didn’t hear anything more. Then he sent his essay.”
Among the contributors is Ann Hood, a best-selling writer from Rhode Island. Ms. Hood’s novel “The Knitting Circle” is based on the loss of her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, to a virulent form of a strep infection, her overwhelming grief and the steps she took to reassemble her life.
“I went to an event on the Cape with my mother, and Ann Hood was a speaker,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “She was really powerful, and she was more than willing to join our project, which meant a lot. Her essay is incredibly powerful. I got goose bumps.”
In tackling their project, the Reynoldses first consulted with author Ann Cummins, who is a professor of creative writing at Northern Arizona University. She told them to go for it and used her considerable contacts to assist them.
The Reynoldses reached out to the authors through colleges and universities at which they taught or through bookstores and groups that had invited them for readings.
“We started to e-mail authors we liked,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “It sometimes got bounced around from person to person until it ended up in the right hands.”
The Reynoldses wrote to hundreds of authors. They had not anticipated the incredible amount of time it would take.
“There were a good number of `No’s,’ but some of the bigger writers started to say yes,” Mr. Reynolds said. “More and more people signed on. We were really impressed with the kinds of authors willing to write something free and donate it.”
“We had a lot of those moments where authors said yes, and we hoped they would follow through,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “Luke has a gift for persuasion.”
When it came time to land a publisher, Ms. Cummins pulled through again, lining up an agent, Jenny Bent, who also has donated her share of the proceeds to the Darfur cause. The submission period was an emotional rollercoaster, and the Reynoldses were ecstatic when they learned that Rutgers University Press had accepted the collection for publication.
“We called our parents,” Mrs. Reynolds said. “We were screaming. We celebrated. We went out to eat. It was a very exciting day.”
The Reynoldses, both of whom are writers, lived in Arizona during the time they put the anthology together. Mrs. Reynolds grew up in Massachusetts and Mr. Reynolds in Connecticut. Mr. Reynolds, 28, now teaches at
John F. Kennedy Middle School in Hudson, and Mrs. Reynolds, 27, is at home with their son, Tyler, who was born in October.
Reaching their goal has given them a deep sense of satisfaction.
“I hope it has an influence on two fronts – impacting readers by the power of the stories and impacting Darfur by raising money,” Mr. Reynolds said.
ART: PHOTOS
CUTLINE: (1) Luke and Jennifer Reynolds, with their son, Tyler, almost 4 months. The Reynolds are publishing an anthology of writings by and about positive humanitarian risk takers. (2) Luke and Jennifer Reynolds with their son, Tyler.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/JIM COLLINS