The Situation in American Writing

Full Stop: 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring. There have also been massive protests in Greece, Spain, Britain, and most recently, the United States. Does literature have a responsibility to respond to popular upheaval?

Alexander Chee: Probably. Just not in the way any of us would expect. I think if it has any responsibility at all it is to defy the expectations of the current moment, to understand us in a way more deeply than is perhaps available to us now. But perhaps this question is about something else together, points to something that is more about writers and contemporary American fiction and the way it is both created and consumed?

I remember reading Mavis Gallant as a writing student to understand how to include the political lives and histories of my characters, because she did it so gracefully. I did it because I was being told writing about politics was to make something unwelcome, or unpleasant, and yet it was something I wanted to do. I had noticed her stories always included the politics of her characters just as a way to make them whole. It was a small but important moment in my life, both the realization of what was needed, and the lesson, but I do think it speaks to this thing we can almost see about contemporary American fiction as a whole.

Full Stop has updated the Partisan Review’s Questionnaire for American Writers from 1939, the Situation in American Writing questionnaire, and sent it to writers such as Marilynne Robinson, George Saunders, Porochista Khakpour, Darin Strauss, Roxane Gay, myself and many others. My response is here.

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