This past week, Literati Bookstore hosted a virtual event featuring the recently-published essay collection “Radical Humility: Essays on Ordinary Acts” as part of the store’s ongoing “At Home with Literati” series. Edited by the University of Michigan’s very own Art & Design professor Rebekah Modrak and Art & Design librarian Jamie Vander Broek, the event featured both Modrak and Vander Broek’s essays along with those of four essayists, who each read an excerpt from their respective pieces, discussed their work and answered questions for the audience.
The essayists approached humility from a variety of perspectives. Hailing from vastly different backgrounds — from journalist to filmmaker to professor — the range presented on the topic simply would not have been possible if penned by a single author.
The event was a joy to attend, and hearing everyone’s perspectives was eye-opening. Each essayist had different concepts they brought to the table, and their rapport was entertaining. After hearing everyone’s unique perspectives on humility, there was a lot to take away from the discussion.
As a librarian for Art & Design at the University as well as a member of the Ann Arbor District Library’s board, it is clear that libraries are a passion of Vander Broeck’s. This sentiment is reflected in her essay, “A Library Is for You,” which showcases libraries as the epicenter of community and the sharing and dissemination of information.
Of all the things Broek said throughout the night, what most stood out to me was her rejection of the “everyone for themselves” mentality. Libraries stand as a point for gathering and collaboration within the community, and this promotion of disregarding ego in exchange for helping others was a heartwarming message.
Jennifer Cole Wright, a professor of psychology at the College of Charleston, brought the perspective of having studied humility within her profession. With thought-provoking questions and ideas like “how do you deal with the day to day challenges of being a good person?” or “living an ethical life means encountering your needs as they are,” everything she said felt like a slap of realization.
My favorite part of her work, though, was how she defined humility, calling it “occupying your proper space.” While this means there are those who need to step back, it is also a call for people who are quieter or whose voices have been marginalized to step forward and embody their spaces without shame.
As an award-winning filmmaker, Mickey Duzyj brought a different perspective on humility. In his essay entitled “The Loser’s Guide to Winning,” Duzyj explored redefining what success means. He offered the idea that being a loser by typical societal standards does not determine your overall success, and winning is not purely defined by personal achievement.
“True success has less to do with actual achievement and more to do with giving to others,” he asserted, and I have not stopped thinking about it. Daunting as it may be, following your true calling can mean more success than the “right” path, if you’re willing to brave it.
Ruth Nicole Brown is an artist and professor at Michigan State University, where she studies and advocates for Black girlhood. Employing a very hands-on approach, Brown told her story through a narrative essay about lessons from her aunt, which was a nice change from the other pieces. Her words struck me most when she explained how humility has currency in different kinds of economies. Instead of viewing humility as a weakness, you can use it for your own benefit.
The final essayist to share was Lynette Clemetson, a longtime journalist and defender of press freedom. Her essay talked about the state of journalism in an age with increased distrust of the media. When humility is seen as an antithesis to journalism, it can be hard to celebrate yourself in the face of such hardship. Clemetson also talked about owning your humility from a point of strength and how critical it can be to take a step back from the spotlight.
As someone who writes for the press, Clemetson’s words were impactful. It’s our job to highlight the accomplishments of others, not to highlight our own accomplishments. The mark of a true journalist is putting others before yourself.
The essay collection can be purchased from Literati here, and the event will be uploaded to Literati’s YouTube here.
Daily Arts Writer Hadley Samarco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.