6 responses to “The Conscience of the Writer”

  1. Marianne Choquet

    Amen. This is brilliant and right on. What an embarrassing situation. Here’s to “the writer as someone who tries to make a difference….”

  2. Kathy Girsch

    Hear, hear!

  3. Don

    You’ve summed it up brilliantly and with your City of Asylum examples have gone beyond the call of “duty,” which, you remind us, none but Jane seemed to have thought about. I liked all the panelists, know them all but Abraham. I wanted to reach out and take Michael and Ethan by the scruff of their necks and say, “What will remain of literature if all you, of all people, talk about is what you’ve tossed off for HBO?”

  4. Jane Smiley

    I have to say that I shared your disappointment. I was sure when they set this up that we were going to talk about politics, but when we were waiting in the green room ahead of the performance, and I brought up politics, everyone was surprised. So, sorry not to have been more assertive as the panel was moving more and more toward celebrity….

  5. Dick Cummins

    One thing writing success gives the well-known writer (if wanted) is a public platform – a bully platform at that – i remember Jane mentioning (before being redirected) that she got 86ed from op-ed-ing at the Gray Lady.

    This she believed was because she was denounced as the merest ’89th most un-American person in the USA’ by some Bush-Cheney-esque, ultra conservative named Bernard Goldberg.

    After reading ‘Stones’ and Abraham’s well researched Ethiopian bloody politics chapters, I was disheartened that he didn’t have more to say about writing, writers and their work as having political importance and positive consequences.

    After all Marion had to escape the repressive right-wing persecutions and political upheaval of Haile Selassie’s regime to progress the plot to New York in the book.

    One would think that at very least – as Abraham and Ethan are MD’s – sworn to make this a better world for the sick – they could have spoken to making the world a better place through writing too. (I believe at this point the discussion deteriorated to film rights and authors working on the sets of their adaptations.)

  6. Dick Cummins

    Important to remember the difference between ‘political writing’ and ‘writing politically’. A public figure can write letters to the editor, op-eds and articles with a ‘humanist political agenda,’ secular or otherwise. Not a problem.

    Writers of conscience can also write politically motivated fiction with a goal of changing the world. The Jungle, Sinclair, The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn, our own KV, Jr. doing his social engineering themes——often disguised as sci-fi work from outer space or Kilgore Trout’s.

    But many writers have denounced other formerly great writers when their material becomes little better than fulsome propaganda.

    Interesting that I was just reading a piece by Chistopher Hitchens about the change in Solzhenitsyn’s writing after being exiled to the US.

    “The ayatollahlike tones of his notorious Harvard lectures (as I called them at the time) turned out not to be misleading. As time went by, he metamorphosed more and more into a classic Russian Orthodox chauvinist, whose work became more wordy and propagandistic and——shall we be polite?——idiosyncratic with every passing year.”

    In my favorite story of one of our own, Vincent Panella——from his “Lost Hearts” book of stories——he writes that after reading one of his rejected pieces his friend, an Israeli artist living in their artists” rooming house, tells him,”Your writing is better than the subject. Fix that and you’ll have art.”

    For the concerned writer this could mean tone down the politics and go back to matters of the heart.

    I noticed this morning that – “Since 2001, more journalists were forced to leave their homeland in Ethiopia than any other country in the world.

    Anyone else think that there are probably courageous writers in Ethiopia, like Doc Abe could have been when he was there, that are facing persecution just because they’re simply trying to write honestly about situations in their country?

    Or is it “Too Late (for) the Phalarope” in Ethiopia?