Writer’s Desk: Own the Fear

Plenty of writers out there are anxious about what kind of physical and spiritual damage is going to be wrought on America and the world by the short-fingered vulgarian currently inhabiting the White House (or not).

Many (like Stephen King, Salman Rushdie, and Junot Diaz) are agitating and speaking their minds, and some are protesting. They know that civil rights, basic freedoms, and great swathes of the social safety net are already in jeopardy.

But the arts are threatened as well—what with plans already afoot to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (so apply now for those Creative Writing Fellowships, just in case).

With all that going on, the temptation is certainly there to just play ostrich and pretend the next four years isn’t going to happen. There’s plenty that one could write which doesn’t engage with the current crisis at all. In the Village Voice, Aleksandar Hemon argues for something different:

What I call for is a literature that craves the conflict and owns the destruction … Never should we assume the sun will rise tomorrow, that America cannot be a fascist state, or that the nice-guy neighbor will not be a murderer because he gives out candy at Halloween.

So recognize that ignoring what’s coming might briefly make you happier but it probably won’t make you a better writer. As Hermon says, to write about America, we must be ready “to fight in the streets and in our sentences.”

If your writing truly engages with that fear and uncertainty, it’ll be grueling and possibly frightening. But it’ll make for a hell of a story.

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