How political should a novelist be?

If an author writes novels that attack societal ills and/or the effective or foolish programs politicians propose for solving them, chances are good that if the novel is contemporary the author agrees with the focus of his/her fiction. In fact, some activist authors are calling for more novels and poems that focus on the issues in the days’ news.

But what if an author isn’t writing those kinds of novels? Should s/he tell readers in speeches and blogs how s/he feels about the issues? Generally, I think not. I’ve crossed that line on this blog from time to time, and have usually regretted doing it because I’m not an activist author even though I have strong views about many things.

Why the regret? Mainly because the purpose of this blog is to discuss writing and to call attention to my books and the subjects surrounding my books. Since I’ve written three novels about a conjure woman, you’ll find me talking about hoodoo and some of the spells and herbs that are typical of a rootworker. Because those novels involve folk magic, I’ve also written a lot of posts about magic. Or, the silly stuff and important stuff going on in my life. (Like cat gravity and cancer treatments.)

So, even though I’ve crossed the line from time to time and posted here about political subjects that have nothing to do with my books, I really don’t think it’s my place to speak out here about the Kurds in Syria or a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Hope Clark (Funds for Writers founder as well as a novelist) made the point in her latest newsletter that she thought it was in poor taste for a publisher’s editor to make comments at a conference for prospective children’s book authors about her negative feelings about President Trump.

According to Clark, that editor risked:

  • “alienating members of the crowd
  • marring the good name of the publisher
  • tarnishing the reputation of the conference”

In this case, the editor was an employee and probably wasn’t authorized by her publisher to make political statements when she was there to talk about best practices for writing and publishing books for children. Employees in other fields have gotten in trouble with their employers for wearing buttons or tee shirts or jewellery that espouses a political or religious opinion because those beliefs might be construed by the public as the beliefs of the employer.

I used to enjoy watching the Oscars even though the program always ran too long and might reasonably have been called an actors-and-producers mutual admiration society. Be that as it may, I don’t watch the program any more because it has become too much (my view) of a political platform for hosts, presenters, and award recipients. When I did watch it, I wanted to know about the best movies of the year, not what the on-stage talent thought of the President or Congress.

Non-activist writers of fiction can easily get into the same quicksand by turning off the very people who love their books by going on and on about current issues. Current issues viewpoints are not why readers and prospective readers are reading a blog, attending a reading/signing, or listening to a speech at a convention. They want to know about the stories and, possibly, how to write stories of their own.

Why send away prospective readers who might enjoy your next novel by allowing immaterial political beliefs into the mix?