On the Politics of Literature

“I never quite know what people mean by political. They
may be saying that it’s a brave work. Or they might be saying
the work makes them uncomfortable, that they don’t want
to deal with it.”

“We live in a society that packages things into handy boxes,
and we’re used to being told what to think. But one of the challenging and gratifying things about literature is that it doesn’t tell you what to think. It asks you what you think…. When I write a book and hand it over to my publisher,
I consider it half-finished. The other half of the work happens
in the hearts and minds of the reader. It’s a personal experience and it’s different for everyone.” (Washington Post)

“I think of ‘activism’ as a simple action meant to secure a specific result: for this purpose I go to school board meetings,
I vote, I donate money, and occasionally fire off an op-ed piece. But that’s not what I do for a living. Writing literature is so much more nuanced than these things, it’s like comparing chopping vegetables to neurosurgery. Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what
to buy, want, see, be, or believe. It’s more like conversation, raising new questions and inspiring you to answer them for yourself. …”

“For some reason, people in the U.S. are fond of putting me in a box labeled ‘political,’ which could mean anything…. If it means ‘inclined to change people’s minds,’ that seems ludicrous as
a category because great literature will always do that. Fiction cultivates empathy for a theoretical stranger by putting you inside his head, allowing you to experience life from his point
of view. It can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place
and time, power and vulnerability, things that influence social interaction. What could be more political than that?” (barbarakingsolver.com)

“I think writing a novel is a political act, automatically, because of the way it draws the reader into a carefully constructed world-view and generates empathy for the people who inhabit that world.”

“I never think that anything I’m writing is bluntly political in any way. I’m not going for commentary. And if I worried about controversy in this country I would just shut myself into a room and never come out. Anything one does is likely to be labelled absurdly and that is part of what [The Lacuna] is about.” (Telegraph)

“I think the novelist’s duty, then, is to own up to the power
of the craft, and use it wisely.”(Faber & Faber)

All quotes by Barbara Kingsolver, American author of among others ThePoisonwood Bible and the recent The Lacunathe former of which I’ve read, absolutely loved, and wholeheartedly recommend and the second of which I look forward to reading eventuallyfounder of the Bellwether Prize, an award bestowed every other year on an unpublished work of “socially responsible literature.”


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