Should writers choose controversy?

J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Salmon Rushdie; All have criticized the current occupant of the White House broadly, mostly on Twitter. However, it’s not fair to say, I think, that it’s the only place they condemn the policies of the Trump administration. It’s just the most widely distributed because- let’s face it- more of us read Twitter than actual books.

To tweet or not to tweet; It’s barely a question.

Authors these days are branching out, everything is changing, and authors are changing with it. Most of the authors I know generally stay out of politics, including myself. I’m vocal outside my writing world, but, in writing, I’ve played it safe. There are times I wonder if that’s been smart.

Writing is controversial, or it should be.

After all, every book that ever set the world on fire and made something happen was a controversial viewpoint some author put down on paper and revealed to the world at their peril. Thomas Paine wrote the Rights of Man and was promptly tried for sedition in absentia and sentenced. Books don’t have those kinds of stakes anymore really.

For one thing, they just aren’t that widely read which is sad, but they are also competing with a twenty-four hour news cycle and a social media culture that turns on a dime. This makes authors just another part of that cycle of celebrity. They influence a finite group of people as do singers, politicians and media personalities.

The days when writers could shock the world with their words appear to be gone, but that isn’t to say they have zero influence. If they have a following or fame, they have a platform. Should they then use it?

Are we there yet?

Turkey has been in the throes of chaos. Elif Shafak, a Turkish novelist, called on other writers this year to speak up and say something on the international stage.

“Turkey today is the world’s leading jailer of journalists,” she told the Hay Festival. “It’s also very tough for academics. Thousands of people have lost their jobs just for signing a peace petition.”

The Guardian

Journalists and writers around the world are being jailed for speaking against dangerous regimes. In Russia, journalists go missing or get killed enough that it’s become routine. The situation in our country is becoming dire for some, and it makes me wonder if it isn’t time to take that public stand.

It may be the end. Every writer in the world knows that. Anything you say can and will be held against you in the court of public opinion, if not the court of law. So, every author has to think long and hard about the decision to pick a side. I suppose that’s true for everyone in the right circumstances.

In my case, I’d have very little to lose, and likely very little effect except to salve my own conscience later, and I suppose the opposite is true for others like Rowling and King. They have so much influence and fame that they likely aren’t too worried about losing anything.

Somewhere in the middle, where an author is struggling to get an audience and obtain that influence, I imagine controversy would be a potential end of them. In that situation, I suppose it would have to make a difference to someone’s life if one chose to do it.

It’s either that, or we’d all have to do it together. That might be something to see, and yet I can’t imagine getting ten authors to agree on any subject, can you? Let alone all of them.

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