Does Writing Have to be Political to Matter?

 As you may recall, I recently had my flash fiction piece 'Snow' nominated in the 3 Quarks Daily Art & Literature prize 2011 and that I ranked as high as a semi-finalist before not making it through to the final six. The finalists who did get through (found here) became these eventual winners:
  1. Top Quark: Namit Arora, Joothan: A Dalit's Life
  2. Strange Quark: Edan Lepucki, Reading and Race: On Slavery in Fiction
  3. Charm Quark: Elliot Colla, The Poetry of Revolt 

    First of all, congratulations to everyone who was nominated or made it through to the final rounds. The standard of entrants was stunning (I particularly love the Strange Quark winner 'Reading and Race' and the finalist post by Millicent and Carla Fran) and I am thrilled to have been a part of it.

    As I’m sure it will be clear from the titles of the three winning posts, these are pieces with a political edge (presented as an in-depth book review, a personal discussion of slavery in fiction and of the role of poetry and chanting in Egyptian revolts) that deal with complex issues such as racial identity, the Indian caste system, revolution and oppression. My piece, on the other hand, was a short stand-alone fictional narrative about a girl returning to a Japanese ski resort, trying to recapture the feelings of a lost love affair. Considering the everyday content of the 3 Quarks Daily, it makes sense that they would choose pieces with political leanings and a wider real world meaning to win their annual Arts and Literature prize.

    What it makes me wonder though, outside of the context of this competition, is whether writing that does have these added reference points matters, in a way, more than those that don’t? 

    When speaking for/as someone as a writer, should we make sure we speak for those who have trouble speaking for themselves? 

    Or is the personal (regardless of the person) always political, because no-one is separate from their reality and no-one has more right to be heard than another?

    This is a question I am really keen to explore; what do you think?


    1. Writers often use literature to vent their political beliefs, and in some cases the literature comes second to the beliefs they are trying to express.

      Some writers believe political topics will make their writing topical to an audience.

      But political basis always lessens literature. And more importantly by locking it down to current events, a writer is losing the 'timeless' appeal that literature can have.

      Often as readers we read fiction to escape politics, and therefore it is the last thing we want to read about.

    2. Amen. Stay away from politics, and deal with that which really matters. I tend to turn right away from anything that has a political edge these days.

      Keep up the good work!

    3. Great comments guys, thanks, and for what it's worth, I think I agree.

      I tend to start skimming the moment I feel that someone is trying to teach me something or make me aware of something the writer obviously feels I should be aware of.

      I understand the compulsion to be a voice for someone you feel is misrepresented or unheard though - maybe the best way to do this would be to free a story of oppression from a particular setting or conflict and make it so you could generalise it to any similar situation? Not sure.

      Think I'll be sticking with the personal for now, as I don't think that it's of any smaller significance, and I agree James, escapism is key.

    4. I don't think political writing matters more, but it depends on the content, writing, and genre.

      Flash fiction is one genre where I'd never want to see anything overtly political. There just isn't the room to do it well.

      As long as the writing feels true, then it's important.

    5. I actually have to disagree, I think that political involvement in literature has always existed and always will. In the past literature was one of the only ways in which people could express themselves and the situations there were in; their everyday lives and the way in which people were suffering. There was censorship and oppression and literature is one of the best ways of understanding what life was like for them- not what the image that the government of that time wanted to convey to the rest of the world.

      People write about what they know; what they have experienced and how they feel and politics affects everyone.

      1. Hi there AV. I don't think there's any one answer to this. You're right also about literature conveying what real life was like - did you see the 50th anniversary pieces about Alexander Solzhenitsyn? It's amazing the effect that book had on the world.

      2. I agree, i'm currently writing an essay titled "‘Writing cannot be imagined outside of any kind of political involvement.’ Discuss with reference to two or more of the writers you have studied." and I stumbled across your blog. I haven't seen them, but I will do some google research! :)

      3. What a great essay topic. Good luck!


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