The general election is on November 6. Think writers are above politics? Think again, says John Green—author of The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, among other books you already know and love. Check out John’s post below—then scroll down to ask him a question!
Writing fiction is an inherently political activity, because people—even imaginary ones—do not live in vacuums. In The Great Gatsby, for instance, Nick never mentions who’s president, but the novel only exists and makes sense in a political context. Gatsby takes place in an aspirational age, where everyone might be rich (which is why, presumably, income tax rates on the richest Americans were never lower than in the 1920s). Also, vitally, alcohol is illegal—and never in American history was there a stranger or more vigorous political campaign than the one that led us to amend our constitution to outlaw liquor. From Twilight to Romeo and Juliet to The Little Mermaid, no work of the imagination is truly apolitical, because the world and our hopes for it are always part of our stories. Just as you cannot be a good citizen without considering the implications of policy decisions, you cannot be a good writer without being aware of the political milieu in which your story plays out.
For several years after I turned 18, I did not vote. I found politics boring and divisive and thought the entire affair a waste of my time. I was going to be a writer, and the great writers (I thought) transcend the minor quibbles of their historical moments. Writers focus on the big questions; politics, I thought, is about the small questions. Here’s an example I often used: There is one candidate for President who thinks the richest of the rich should pay 39% of their income in taxes, and another who thinks the richest of the rich should pay 32% of their income in taxes. One of these candidates is portrayed as a business-hating wealth redistributor; the other as a corporate fat cat who hates the middle class. Real writers, as I figured it, need not concern themselves with such rhetoric; I would devote myself to asking the big questions.
But the big questions—about our environment, our responsibilities to one another, our rights as citizens—are political questions. And in the end there was nothing high-minded or noble about my political disengagement; it was mere laziness.
Just as we have a responsibility to tell the truest stories we can tell, as writers we have a responsibility to participate in our governance. For those of us over 18, that means voting. For those of us under 18, that means volunteering, cajoling the adults we know to vote, and lobbying those adults on behalf of our candidates. I think you will find, as I have, that writing is not the opposite of politics after all: They are both ways of trying to apprehend the world as it is, and to imagine the world that might be.
Got a question for John about politics, citizenship, or fiction-writing? Ask your question in the comment section below. We’ll be sending him the best ones—and he’ll be answering them here on Figment at a later date!