Monday, February 22, 2016

The Writer's Life: Politics and Activism

In this season of presidential politics, I got to thinking about politics in writing. While some writers avoid “politics” in their books and blog posts, Facebook postings, etc., how can we as writers not view the world through a political prism - and, more importantly, express that to our readers?

Whether it is addiction and its impact on the family, terminating a pregnancy, the ramifications racism and sexism play in the ordinary, everyday life, writing about this is political.

While some might disparage politics  (especially in light of the ugly tone it has taken) as distractions from a meaningful life, none of us can - or should -  avoid a "political take" in memoir or fiction.

Offering the reader some “political” edge or angle to our story is crucial. Whether taking on authority figures, questioning the status quo, attempting to address and shine a light on poverty, discrimination, injustice, child abuse . . . the list goes on and on . . .we must do this in order to consider ourselves serious writers.

Politics and voice are complementary, offering the reader a window into our story and us, the author. This is what we called a "slant" in the news business. A story without a slant is flavorless and tepid.

For example, in A Portrait of Love and Honor, Jay questions in a classroom of cadets the meaning behind the war in Vietnam. “Are you saying that we have to burn the village in order to save it?” he asks the instructor. Challenging the status quo, he immediately sets himself up to be scapegoated and treated as a pariah. This develops the conflict in his story and ultimate journey and realizations.

In Morning at Wellington Square, I leave The Philadelphia Inquirer in light of the apparent discrimination going on in the newsroom – seeking to find meaning and a better life without the strife and “politics” inherent in age and sex discrimination. It offers a window into the narrator as a person who cannot live with that and moves on.

And in Again in a Heartbeat, politics –  believing in myself and a woman’s empowerment becomes one of the defining messages of that memoir. Widowhood is not a death sentence and we don't have to settle.

While I was in Tucson I read Gloria Steinem’s new memoir My Life on the Road. As Steinem writes, “Whether among female villagers in India or college-age activists, the talking circle offers a roadmap to listening, learning and telling stories.”

The power of the circle was central, she says, to igniting the modern American feminist and civil rights movements. It influenced her view of life, her parents, and the struggles of women then and yet to come.

When I think of what it takes to be a competent writer, I think of these circles. We are inspired by our shared and unpredictable journeys that lead to putting pen to paper and capturing the universal themes that make stories interesting and imaginative, as well as edgy and informative. Together we find strength and courage to confront the truth.

That’s why I’m excited about the Women’s Writing Circle resuming after a short winter hiatus on March 12. Together we’ll be sharing our stories, offering support in the isolating world that is writing and learning writing strategies that help us move forward with our craft.

The power of the circle also resides in giving voice to our healing journeys and putting pen to our political lives. Truly, every good writer is an activist in his or her own way.
What about you. Do you inject 'politics' in one form or another into your writing? Or do you shy away from it? What are the challenges in presenting a voice and political edge to your writing?

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