Of Politics and Prose

Should art — and more specifically, literature — be instructive? Adding her perspective to the never-ending debate, Roxane Gay has an essay at Lithub in which she reveals how she chose the short stories for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2018: with an eye toward writing that engaged with the political in thoughtful, engaging, diverse and inclusive ways.

Writers are divided on whether or not it is their responsibility to address the contretemps in their work. Some writers stubbornly cling to the idea that writing should not be sullied by politics. They labor under the impression that they can write fiction that isn’t political, or influenced in some way by politics, which is, whether they realize it or not, a political stance in and of itself. Other writers believe it is an inherent part of their craft to engage with the political. And then there are those writers, such as myself, who believe that the very act of writing from their subject position is political, regardless of what they write. I know, as a black, queer woman, that to write is a deeply political act, whether I am writing about the glory of the movie Magic Mike XXL, or a novel about a kidnapping in Haiti, or a short story about a woman eating expired yogurt while her husband suggests opening their marriage.

When I am reading fiction, I am not always looking for the political. First and foremost, I am looking for a good story. I am looking for beautifully crafted sentences. I am looking for a refreshing voice or perspective. I am looking for interesting, complex characters that I find myself thinking about even when I am done with the story. I am looking for the artful way any given story is conveyed, but I also love when a story has a powerful message, when a story teaches me something about the world, when a story shows me just how much I don’t know and need to know about the lives of others.

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