Gretel Van Wieren
I first learned of Rebekah Modrak and Jamie Vander Broek’s edited volume, Radical Humility: Essays on Ordinary Acts (Belt Publishing, 2021), from my colleague and friend, Ruth Nicole Brown, who invited me to participate in a book launch hosted by Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore. I was unfortunately not able to attend the event, though the publisher was gracious enough to send me a copy of the book anyway. I loved it right from the start. Rebekah Modrak’s opening essay, “Free Yourself by Choosing the Plain Crackers,” had me nodding and cheering all the way for how it challenged today’s cultural proclivity for constant self-promotion (including among academicians). Ruth Nicole Brown’s essay “Zabeulah’s Lesson” uplifted and inspired with its vision of “you, before me” as a practice of solidarity and care among Black women and girls. And there was so much more in-between the pages of this jewel of a book! Artists met scientists met journalists met chefs, all with the shared intention of revealing and imagining how “ordinary acts,” humble acts, might help to guide our lives and communities toward a deeper sense of love, kindness, generosity, and justice.
It was just the kind of book and topic, I thought, that would be perfect for the Public Philosophy Journal, with its public-facing, interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to engaging critical societal issues. Thankfully, PPJ managing editor Kurt Milberger agreed, and, so, with his and the PPJ team’s help, the Radical Humility forum emerged. Ruth Nicole Brown suggested interlocutors, all of whom (amazingly!) agreed to participate, another testament to the volume’s appeal and resonance. Authors interacted with and commented on one another’s essays through the PPJ’s unique formative peer review process. Then we came together to share about and reflect on our pieces in an online Zoom forum as a way to continue the conversation with students and the broader university and community. The hope is that the conversation will widen in surprising circles, true to Radical Humility’s beginning, which before it was a book, I am told, was a larger social project that included what Ruth Nicole Brown called “the best ‘unconference’ I'd ever attended … everyone was so passionate and engaged! We had delicious family style meals on a farm outdoors and it was so good!” Sounds to me like a perfect recipe for generating dialogue around and actions characterized by transformative forms of humility.