Do we have the power to address social and political issues in our work? In class, writers are often discouraged from taking on controversial issues. Instead, one is often told to focus on character, plot, and pacing. Otherwise, the author runs the risk of writing flat, single-minded, political prose. The great George Orwell, for example, was often accused of sacrificing art for politics. As a result, he was never considered a truly great writer.
The above advice is sound in some ways, especially for new writers, as politics can often overpower a story, and in satire one can lose all sense of character development and plot. But, I don’t think writers should shy away from taking on controversial subjects. In fact, I think it is often the author’s responsibility to bring these issues to light.
Three of my most recent stories have in some way discussed the recent recession and unemployment. At first, I felt hesitant in taking on this issue, but eventually I found myself restless and angry about the current state of affairs. I felt I had to write about this issue, if only to put my mind at ease. In truth, these stories are more personal than political, but in a larger way they address issues that I feel are the undercurrent of today’s news: Are common, everyday men and women being heard? If I hadn’t written these stories, I feel I would still be grappling with them somehow. Instead, I believe I have given voice to my own struggles while also expressing the frustrations of those around me.
Similarly, I have written about bullying, teen suicide, violence, eating disorders, and a number of other issues that are perhaps not always political but ultimately important to address. To me, these issues should not be brushed aside but should be taken on with full force. I believe the characters in these stories are essential, but I think the issues that these stories take on are a driving force.
Yes, writing is meant to entertain, but in my mind, the best pieces of writing can also encompass much more than one sentiment. When I first began writing, I was especially inspired by Charles Dickens. He was able to fit so much into his novels. They were not just about political and social injustice; they were also stories about humanity and the individuals who endured difficult circumstances.
I believe writers have the ability to effect change. Even if stories ultimately do not have the desired impact, perhaps they will touch one person or start one conversation. Ultimately, our work should create dialogue and bring up issues that have otherwise been set aside. If we ignore these responsibilities as writers, we will be doing the world, and ourselves, a great injustice.