The Storyteller Reports: Jodi Picoult Speaking Her Mind

I like honesty in people, especially when it comes to matters of life and death. That’s why I was glad to read an interview of bestselling author Jodi Picoult about her new novel that touches on euthanasia. I don’t agree with everything she said, but she said it loud and proud. She didn’t leave any doubt where she stood.

Hurrah, says I. Jodi stands in a long line of writers who have made their politics clear. John Milton, the famous English poet, spoke against Parliament for freedom of speech. Allen Ginsberg, to whom we owe “Howl” and other gripping modern poetry, protested the Vietnam War. We need people like that. Writing literature can make you a little crazy. The world needs crazy people so it will keep asking questions. A bold voice can cure many evils.

With the recent furor over the HHS mandate, and unresolved issues like gay marraige and abortion, we need more bold voices. I applaud any fiction writer who stands up for what he/she believes.

But be careful.

That can be a dangerous move, and it’s not just because it makes enemies. Think about this. How far can you go before you tangle literature too much with politics? You don’t want to come to the point where you write blatant social novels, like Upton Sinclair. I read a Nobel Lecture the other day by a Chinese writer named Gao Xingjian that touched on this issue…

“In order that literature safeguard the reason for its own existence and not become the tool of politics it must return to the voice of the individual, for literature is primarily derived from the feelings of the individual and is the result of feelings. This is not to say that literature must therefore be divorced from politics or that it must necessarily be involved in politics. Controversies about literary trends or a writer’s political inclinations were serious afflictions that tormented literature during the past century.”

I’ll leave you to think about that. Does a writer have the right to speak out about politics? If so, to what extent? If an influential writer, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, gathered a lot of support with political statements, what would that writer do with that support? Power can be deadly. As Marquez himself told The Paris Review

“The more power you have, the harder it is to know who is lying to you and who is not. When you reach absolute power, there is no contact with reality, and that’s the worst kind of solitude there can be.”

What do you think?

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