Everyone likes talking about what they are interested in, and writers are no exception. Writers also happen to typically be very opinionated people (why would we write if we did not feel that we had something to say?). Writers also seem to have no shortage of opinions on what it means to be a writer, what the writer’s place is in society, and what responsibility and significance goes along with it. The overarching argument is about responsibility and what exactly that responsibility is.
Tony Kushner says in his essay, “Some Questions About Tolerance” that the writers responsibility is to make good art, any other responsibilities come after that.
Arundhati Roy in “Power Politics” says that the writers responsibility is to “ask ourselves some very uncomfortable questions” and “take sides” because these are “our responsibilities as citizens.”
Edwidge Danticat says that the writer’s responsibility is to her audience. She argues that we are called upon to “create dangerously, for people who read dangerously.”
The responsibility of the writer is foremost to be good at writing, I do not think that is easy to argue against. However, when writing is laced with the any broader political ideology, it gains a greater urgency to be good art. Kushner says, very succinctly, that “If art […] has any political impact, and I believe it does, it seems to me that it’s most likely to have it by being effective art […]” As I have suggested, this seems obvious, but there is an edge to it.
Slam poet Taylor Mali, in his poem “How to Write a Political Poem ” speaks somewhat flippantly to the point that Roy brings up when she asks, “if what we have to say doesn’t ’sell’ will we still say it?” Mali takes a different approach to talking about writing the political than Roy or Kushner or Danticat. Mali talks about the craft of writing and how we try to formulate our political arguments. He points out that we are selling it from the moment we sit down to write. He points out that we have to “have a hook” and right at the start he says that “however it begins, its gotta be loud.” By saying this he is suggesting that no mater what you say, there is a certain way that you have to say it to help make people believe you.
Mali also brings out a larger point about how when we are selling our ideas (as that is what we do when we write, we try to sell the truth of what we are trying to say, just as I am doing now) it is exactly that, selling. Roy brings up the issue of commercialization of writing and Mali brings out a more resonant point that the idea of selling happens before, and in a different way than the idea of publishing and marketing. The selling happens as soon as one sits down to try to convince someone of your political point. The political, just as the literary, is always about selling your truth and that truth is our responsibility. How we choose to write that truth is up to each individual writer.
Danticat, Edwidge. “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work” New York: Vintage, 2010. 1-20. Print.
Kushner, Tony. “Some Questions About Tolerance” New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995. Print.
Mali, Taylor. “How to Write a Political Poem” Youtube. 13 Oct. 2009. 30 Jan. 2012. Web.
Roy, Arundhati. “Power Politics” Boston: South End Press, 2002. Print.