Monday, July 4, 2016

What Writers Often Forget About Freedom

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Over the weekend I was the only one awake in the car at 11pm as we drove back from a family 4th-of-July celebration two hours away from our home. I was flipping through radio stations trying to find something to keep me alert, when I came across a BBC program called World Book Club, in which they were interviewing Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vasquez. (Listen to the entire interview here.)

Well, I always jump on the chance to learn from a published author, and it's rare I get exclusive car radio privileges with no interruptions from my little peanut gallery, so I settled into my driver's seat to listen as I drove through the rainy night, the soft thwip-thwup of the windshield wipers marking a steady background rhythm behind Vasquez's deep, thoughtful voice coming through my speakers.

Vasquez has published several books, but the one they were discussing was, "The Sound of Things Falling." Don't you just love that title? It just kind of makes you sit up and want to know what it's about.

Anyway, he said something during the interview that really made me think, and so beautifully fit with our celebration of Independence Day that I knew I had to share it with you today:

"Memory is an essential part of my work as a writer. I think that writing novels and the act of remembering go hand in hand. The act of remembering is a moral act; it has moral connotations. It speaks to our need to keep alive something that, without literature, without fiction, would die.  
"As human beings we're constantly competing with authorities for control of our life story. The State- all those words we write with capital letters: the State, the Government, Religion- they're all great narrators and they strive to control their own version of our past. Fiction is to me the place where we as citizens raise our hands and say, 'I don't remember it happening that way,' or, 'I think it might have happened in another way.' And that moral act of remembering from the point of view of a citizen is one of the things that novels do that cannot be done in any other way. To go to our recent past and find out what's going on in (for lack of a better word) the soul of a person, the mind of a person, is one of the great privileges that fiction affords us." – Juan Gabriel Vasquez

He said that so eloquently, and what an important reminder to us that the ability to write and have those recorded memories (either ours or others') read and shared is indeed a privilege, it is a freedom that I think we often overlook, and as Vasquez's words imply, it's one that should not be taken for granted.

There are many of our predecessors who have not fought on battlefields, but on the front of public opinion, who have painstakingly paved the way for the freedoms we now enjoy. I think specifically this week of the profound work of Jewish writer Elie Wiesel, who passed away just two days ago. When he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the committee called him a "messenger to mankind." If anyone was a soldier in the battle for the preservation of memory through literature, Elise Wiesel was.

So this Independence Day, I encourage you to be a little more grateful that you can write without fear, and to remember that through our writing we can be a voice to memory, a voice for the ordinary person whose name may never appear in a history book, and whose experiences might be lost without the work of writers like us.

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