Like most of you, I’m a voracious reader – voracious and omnivorous. I love every genre but I tend to binge. Right now I’m binging on historicals—adventure, detective, romance and biography. It started with the publication of a client’s historical seagoing adventure. I really love this client—dedicated, talented, determined – and best of all, his 18th century hero is surrounded by characters so real they practically walk off the page.
The cast of characters includes every walk of life one would find in postcolonial America and the wider world. From merchants to millers to a lesbian frontier woman, a free black family, an Ottoman Turk political fixer to a closeted gay Navel officer, not one of these critical players feels forced or token. There is no preachy message, no particular point to be made from this varied cast. They are simply the natural population of this writer’s historical period, as much as all types and flavors are, and always have been, the natural population of the world. Such characters have largely been written out of history by social convention.
In all this bingeing, I’ve come across a few works where the writer loudly and proudly proclaims they are whatever identity they are as opposed to the conventionally accepted population of American novels—mainly Anglo and heterosexual. These voices can feel strident, in your face, surprisingly aggressive. It feels like preaching and I’m not aware of belonging to any particular congregation. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and tends to get in the way of a good story. But beneath all the militant raging I recognize there’s a message that needs to be heard. And I think about the suffragettes.
The right to vote is so smoothly woven a part of my life that I have to make an effort to remember that these woman got strident, got in the face of convention, got extremely aggressive and unpleasant in order to win a basic human right 100 years ago. Those gutsy women were widely vilified, punished and imprisoned, but they got the message across. That’s how it is done.
Writers have always given us more than just great entertainment. Throughout the ages storytellers have had a major impact on society. Kepler’s Somnium (1634), offered radical ideas (the sun is the center of the solar system!) safely disguised as fiction. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, Sophie’s Choice . . . a huge list of books from writers who humanized and taught us about people and worlds we were ignorant of before. Those authors were, writers are, social warriors.
So I say welcome those strident voices. Be they people of a different skin color or people of a different bent, excluding their part in the stories of life—the stories we write and read – is to diminish the rich tapestry all writers wish to capture. Those walrus mustachioed gentlemen in their stiff collars and heavy suits survived the onslaught of the women’s vote – and thrived. So shall society survive and thrive acknowledging and embracing the existence of those voices that are not presently the conventional idea of the norm. Long live the power of the pen, the impact of the well told tale!
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