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Interview with Arun, Founder of Skipping Stones

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

“Native American folktales, photos from kids in India or the Ukraine, poems from students in Hawaii or Pennsylvania, letters and drawings from South Africa and Lithuania, cartoons from China, and more might await you,” boasts the front page of Skipping Stones’s website. The award-winning multicultural literary magazine accepts writing and artwork from contributors of all ages and backgrounds, including in non-English languages, with the purpose of “[celebrating] ecological and cultural diversity.” We got in touch with Arun Narayan Toke, founder and Executive Editor of the magazine, to learn about his story, insights, and advice.

Q: You’ve been running Skipping Stones for more than 30 years now. What have you learned in that time? Is there anything that has been unexpected or surprising to you?

A.T.: I am simply amazed by the deep, thoughtful, creative ways young people express their truths, their life experiences. We have received over 10,000 poems and writings over the years, and they continue to be fresh. We receive so many outstanding submissions that we must save at least a few pieces as “waiting in the wing” for the next issue!

Q: What kind of work are you doing/have you done other than Skipping Stones?

A.T.: Before beginning Skipping Stones, I worked as a design engineer, taught at a state college and co-authored a textbook on Energy and Society. I worked on a low-energy scenario for India. I co-led a Peacewalk in Central America and edited a quarterly journal on sustainability and energy-efficiency for wood-fired cookstoves.

In addition to publishing Skipping Stones, I also volunteer in the community in several venues, and I help organize the monthly Interfaith Prayer Services in Eugene.

Q: There’s a really amazing line in a University of Oregon article about you that reads, “World peace, [you] decided, must begin with the education of children.” What would you say the role of education should be for kids growing up and for society? What about how education is perceived or carried out today do you think should change?

A.T.: The idea of Skipping Stones was conceived at a Gandhian Community when I was attending an international peace conference in 1986. Mahatma Gandhi used to say that if you want good fruits, you need to start by planting seeds and then nurturing the young shoots that germinate.

You have heard the saying that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. But we can always teach young pups many tricks. Similarly, we can begin with children if we want to harvest peace in the world. We need to nurture and raise our young ones in a gentle, loving, peaceful environment that encourages creativity, and critical thinking, so that they have the freedom to imagine what is possible.

The role of education should be to create free thinking, imaginative children; not merely some cogs in the industrial society. Unfortunately, many of our educational institutes want to train our youth to fit certain jobs, by training them in mostly technical skills. But, I think, experienced educators and artists can share their experiences and teach ethics and values with the younger generations. Science and technology have an important role, but I believe various fields of inquiry, including arts and the humanities, must have ample space in the curriculum.

Q: Why did you start a literary magazine? What value do you see in literature and art as a means of understanding, as opposed to more rigorous learning and education?

A.T.: Literature and arts touch us at an emotional level. Personal experiences and storytelling can reach the very core; statistics and numbers may not necessarily do it. Skipping Stones prefers to publish personal experiences rather than generalized statements that could lead to stereotypes and prejudice. And, we need to be very careful that we don’t incubate prejudice and racism. We want to promote openness in society and multiple perspectives — respect for different ways of looking at things.

Visual arts (like photos and paintings) powerfully convey what the artists want to share. As you know, a picture is worth a thousand words. When we see an image—artwork or photograph—it evokes deep feelings and emotions and responses. And the beauty of art is that it touches different people differently. So, we try our best to encourage both literary and visual arts in our pages. And, if your first language is other than English, we are open to publishing bilingual pieces. From my personal experience, I know that being bilingual and/or trilingual expands your horizons literally. I learned three languages as a child, and as an adult I found that this experience made it easier to pick up Spanish.

Q: Your educational background was originally in engineering. How has this influenced your worldview and the work that you’re doing now?

A.T.: As a student in Central India, I had to choose a line of education, and given the national situation (India was newly independent and wanted to develop modern infrastructure like power plants, transmission lines, telecommunications, etc.), science and math made sense. In college, I had to further narrow it. I went for electrical engineering rather than pure science or math. However, in engineering, we were taught a lot of math and science, but it was more of “applied” science and math. We had only a few courses in economics, literature, or civics.

I suppose my educational background makes me look at the practical side of things. I go for efficiency, while at the same time maximizing safety. I keep publishing schedules and follow an ethics of ecological viability, engineering skills, etc. I don’t have any training in business management, economics, arts, or language and literary skills, but I suppose my engineering skills help me navigate through what we face in our life and our work. I feel that I am blessed to have had a good training in science and engineering. It offers me multiple perspectives in what I am doing in Skipping Stones, especially promoting an appreciation for nature, protecting natural systems and understanding of the critical climate science issues.

Q: If you could make everyone in the world understand or value one thing, what would it be?

A.T.: Multiple perspectives! There is more than just ONE way of looking at an event, or doing certain things, and there are many reasons why we all do different things differently. It is NOT good to categorize human beings. Looking at things in black and white doesn’t leave much room for creativity. There are many shades of gray in between! Diversity—cultural diversity, eco-diversity, linguistic diversity, religious diversity, and all kinds of diversity—is an essential aspect of sustainability. For example, it is obvious that in agriculture, if a farmer plants only one crop—monoculture—he is much more susceptible to the possible threats of insect damage, unpredictable weather changes, changing economic conditions, etc.

Q: Lastly, do you have any advice for our community of young writers and artists, in general or specifically in this current pandemic?

A.T.: Don’t give up your hope! With the COVID-19 pandemic and also climate change issues, the problems might seem insurmountable. But nothing is impossible if we keep on trying. If we give up trying, there is no charm left in life. So, till the last breath, keep on trying, do your best. Even if the world seemed to be collapsing under your feet! Stay true to your values. Do what you think is right!

And, we offer Skipping Stones as a global forum where you can share your truths, opinions, dreams and visions. We’d love to spread your creations wide and far through Skipping Stones!

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