Ten years ago, I sent out a letter, asking friends and family to share their thoughts on September 11, one of the most tragic days in American history. This project was launched long before the advent of social media platforms and online publishing tools, such as Facebook and WordPress. When I sent out my “call to words,” I intended to make Xerox copies of the submissions and send them to contributors by the end of 2001.
The project grew far beyond my expectations. My letter spread beyond my immediate circle, and within a couple months, I had essays, poems, photographs, and artwork from more than 100 people around the globe. My friend Marco Bertacche, in Italy, was taking an introductory HTML course at the time, and he volunteered to create a website (http://digilander.iol.it/september11/). Other friends, including Sarah Heames Patterson, Patric Tengelin, Rico Mei, and Sara Slack, offered to help me produce a book, so I could fulfill my original promise of sending contributors a printed version of the collection.
In August 2002, just weeks before the first anniversary of 9/11, that book was completed. We titled it Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. I printed 200 copies and, in hopes of recouping some of my costs, sold softcover editions for $24 and hardcover versions for $32. (Still, I spent thousands of dollars out of my own pocket. This was not a money-making venture and was never intended to be.)
I sold about 150 books and gave away 40, including one to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which sent me an unsolicited letter in the fall of 2005, asking for a copy for its archives. I hung onto 10 copies for my personal library. In late 2002, I put the project to bed.
With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 now approaching, people have been asking if I plan to do anything with the book. I hadn’t intended to — this project was emotionally challenging. I generally pull the book out only once a year, on September 11. I still feel a tremendous sense of sorrow and anxiety about 9/11, and reading the book takes me to a dark place.
However, I recently looked at the collection again, and it is extraordinary. The essays provide a clear picture of what everyday citizens, of all ages, were doing and thinking in the days following 9/11. And the sentiments expressed are raw and honest — and diverse. There is fear, rage, despair, cynicism, faith, hope. Some contributors want revenge, others urge tolerance and peace. Some fully support President George W. Bush, others are gravely concerned about what actions he’ll take. The anthology also includes remarks from a number of people who lost loved ones on September 11, and an essay by a 24-year-old who worked in Tower Two and managed to escape before it collapsed.
I’ve decided to republish the material on this site, 911throughoureyes.wordpress.com. I’ll post a few entries per day throughout August and early September. Undoubtedly, some contributors will cringe while reading their essays. The passing of time tempers emotions and changes perspectives. Even I’m embarrassed by the original letter I sent out — it sounds so soppy and naive. But it was how I felt at the moment in time, and I’m a big believer in the unfiltered documentation of life, of history. I hope everyone who visits this site remembers that these contributors were penned right after 9/11, when everyone was feeling stunned, scared, and incredibly vulnerable.
I urge everyone, especially original contributors, to post remarks on this site.
Thanks for visiting.
Jenna M. McKnight
Posted July 31, 2011