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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.

Works Cited

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.

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To be a Writer

If I were to ask you to sit down and define what a baker does, what would you say? One might say that a baker’s job is simply to bake cakes. Someone else might want to include other confections such as pastries and cookies. Another person might argue that baking is an art that involves precise measurements, a steady hand, and great attention to detail. Who of these people is wrong? The answer, of course, is nobody. All of these people’s definitions of what it means to be a  baker are accurate. However, each person has a different perspective on what it means to be a baker.

The same goes for what it means to be a writer. We cannot take a world of people with different values and place them all within the same parameters. It just doesn’t work. There is no cookie-cutter idea of what it means to be a writer.

When I write, I speak about what matters to me at the time. Sometimes, I write about political issues. Other times, I vent about school or work. Then there are days when I feel like writing a love poem. These topics are quite different from one another, but they still contribute to myself as a writer. I think that Arundhati Roy was trying to get this across in her article, Power Politics. She posed the question of whether or not writing has a definable role that can be fixed or characterized in a definite way. My answer to that is no, it absolutely cannot. That’s not to say that there aren’t writers who write for specific mediums. But if John Grisham, for instance, who is known for his legal thrillers, decided one day to write a YA Lit book, who are we to stop him?

As Roy states in her article, “There are no excuses for bad art. Painters, writers, singers, actors, dancers, filmmakers, musicians are meant to fly, to push the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look.” To me, writing is about exactly that. It’s about escaping to a place of beauty that you may overlook in your busy life. To stop and take a moment to savor a world in an imagined place. There are some arguably bad writers out there who have cult followings of people who love their work. To those people, that artist’s work is what writing is all about.

John Grisham on his craft

Rose, Charlie. “Charlie Rose – John Grisham on Developing Plot.” Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose, 29 Jan. 2008. Web. 30 Jan. 2012. <http://www.charlierose.com/view/clip/9508&gt;.

Roy, Arundhati. “Power Politics.” Third World Traveler, Third World, United States Foreign Policy, Alternative Media, Travel. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

To Choose Writing

What is the duty of the writer? Or, a better question, does the writer have a duty at all?

Danticat writes: “Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously… Somewhere, if not now, then maybe years in the future, a future that we may have yet to dream of, someone may risk his or her life to read us” (10). It is absolutely true that we will never know how someone else uses our work in the future, so even something that was created with no agenda in mind may hold a sliver of human truth that could be used in the future. Kushner, similarly, writes, “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 as art- in other words, that political agendas can’t successfully be imposed on the act of making art, of creation, for all those agendas will invariable surface from within once the art is made” (44). Art is an effective medium for political statements; however, its political message is not dependent on its being released into the mainstream world. The writer chooses to be political simply by starting the sentence. This is because every piece of writing can be used in a political manner.  

Does a man, walking down the street, who encounters a woman crying on the side of the road, have a duty to see if he can make the situation better? The man doesn’t have an obligation to do this, unless he is somehow connected. This, all in all, is a question of morality. At that moment, it is his choice to either act, or not. He will either change the world or, in non-action, he will let it remain as it was. The writer is the man or woman who stoops to hand the woman a handkerchief. He or she has chosen action. It is not a responsibility. It is a choice. So is it with the writer. Once the writer has lifted pen to paper, he or she has changed the world in some way, no matter what he or she writes. We are all endowed with certain gifts, which, when we use them, have the potential to change the world. It is up to each one of us to decide if we will take on the responsibility of being a writer.

William Faulkner, in his Nobel Prize in Literature speech, says, “It is [the writer’s] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice, which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” The choice to make change in the world is carried through with every writer—it is man’s method of enduring. A writer creates voices for those who have none, choosing the responsibility to be the voice of man at that specific time, and possibly times to come. Through that medium, a writer creates courage to get through the danger. He or she creates the pillars that hold mankind up, that challenge all aspects of life.

Sources:

Danticant, Edwidge. Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. New York: Vintage, 2010. 1-20. Print.

Faulkner, William. Acceptance Speech: Nobel Prize in Literature. zzahier. youtube.com. 2008. Accessed January 29, 2012.

Kushner, Tony. “Some Questions About Tolerance.” Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1995. 41-46. Print.