Searching for Truth
Bethesda writer Paula Whyman heads a new journal, intertwining art and politics
Paula Whyman. Photo by Michael Ventura
When author Paula Whyman leans across a quiet corner table at Le Pain Quotidien on Bethesda Row to talk about her new project, she grins excitedly from her first word to her last. It’s the exact opposite of the way she was feeling after Election Day, when she says the tumultuous political and social climate temporarily suffocated her creativity. Emotionally, the Bethesda resident was sapped. Mentally, too. Then a Facebook post by writer Mikhail Iossel gave her feelings purpose.
“It felt like the culmination of the longest year ever, and I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what to do. I was just really angry and frustrated,” Whyman remembers, shaking her head in a surge of fresh disbelief. “Then Mikhail said something like, ‘There should be a place where artists and writers can respond to the threats against democracy through artistic expression.’ We didn’t know each other except through Facebook, but I saw that and said, ‘I’ll help.’ Now,” she laughs, “I’m the editor.”
That’s the creation story for Scoundrel Time, a digital literary journal that celebrates stories of resistance in original works of poetry, fiction, essays and visual art. Through it, Whyman recovered her own voice and is helping others build an anti-oppression community. Launched in January, Scoundrel Time—its title is borrowed from a memoir about political subversion by playwright Lillian Hellman—is managed by a team of five volunteer editors. It’s not like the standard quarterly journal that solicits the expertise of professionals and scholars. Instead, new work is posted at scoundreltime.com weekly from both emerging and well-known contributors who live around the world. As of press time, there were more than 100 postings.
The storytellers come from all backgrounds. One writer penned an essay about her mother’s pilgrimage to Mecca. Another wrote a short piece about gathering emergency supplies for what she calls her “Trump Box.” Some contributors are Guggenheim, Whiting or National Endowment for the Arts fellows. Some are self-identifying creatives. All of them, says contributor Regie Cabico, are committed to giving voice to people and experiences that may otherwise be unheard.
“When you’re creating resistance art, you’re trying to elevate some unique point of view,” says Cabico, a spoken word artist and poet who grew up in the D.C. suburbs. “So when you look at Scoundrel, you can’t help but to be inspired by the immediacy of what’s happening in this administration and the way people are reporting on it.” That’s the overarching vision for the journal, which Whyman wants to be both an outlet for expression and a tool for movement. To help that, the site’s Actions page is regularly updated with events and invitations for readers to engage in activism and advocacy around critical issues.
A former book editor for the American Psychological Association, Whyman grew up in Silver Spring with a family versed in current events. “Politics was always a subject at our dinner table, so I was raised to question authority,” says Whyman, who has two teenage sons. Her first book, You May See a Stranger, was published in 2016; she’s currently working on her second. Scoundrel Time is her welcome opportunity to intersect art and action in ways she may not otherwise be able.
Although it’s powered mostly on sweat equity, Scoundrel Time is registered as a 501(c)(3) organization to accept donations; in April, the team received an initial grant from the Amazon Literary Partnership. Response to content has been overwhelmingly positive so far, Whyman says, minus one online commenter who accused her of being exclusionary to Trump supporters. (She invited that person to submit work, an opportunity she says he or she didn’t take.) Overall, Whyman says, “People are really excited. They’re almost relieved to have something to do, and I feel strongly that art is a place to tell the truth and to find the truth, even through fiction.”