For Writers, Everything is Material

So of course writers have responded to the 2016 Presidential Election. Enjoy their language and skill.

Aftermath: Sixteen Writers on Trump’s America: The New Yorker, November 21, 2016

By Toni Morrison, Atul Gawande, Hilary Mantel, George Packer, Jane Mayer, Jeffrey Toobin, Junot Diaz, and more.
“It is thought by many, lately, and said by some, that the republic has seen its best days, and that it remains for the historian to chronicle the history of its decline and fall. I disagree. Sparrows may yet cross the sky.” -Jill Lepore

What Just Happened? Writers Respond to the 2016 Presidential ElectionFirst Person Plural, November 4, 2016

By Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Grace Aneiza Ali, Hafizah Geter, Max S. Gordon, Hajar Husseini, Morgan Jenkins, and Chris Prioleau
Stacy Parker Le Melle First Person Plural
Stacy Parker Le Melle [Source: First Person Plural]
“Days before the reading I felt so much dread. But today is different. Thank you writers, audience, community. This is what a shift feels like. We are not passive. We are co-creating this reality.” -Stacy Parker Le Melle

Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, David Hare and more… Leading writers on Donald Trump: The Guardian, August 12, 2016

By Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, David Hare, and more.

Maya Jasanoff Harvard
Maya Jasanoff [Source: Harvard University]
“Dorothy is the real saviour of the book (Baum’s wife, it’s worth noting, was a prominent suffragist), but even when they’ve exposed the wizard as a fraud, she and her friends turn to him for aid. “How can I help being a humbug,” chuckles Oz the not-so-great, “when all these people make me do things that everybody knows can’t be done?” -Maya Jasanoff

“We are witnessing the politics of humiliation”—Siri Hustvedt, Joyce Carol Oates and more on the US electionThe Guardian, November 12, 2016

By Siri Hustvedt, Joyce Carol Oates, and more.

Cynthia Bond
Cynthia Bond [Source:]
“The musician Sara Bareilles wrote a song entitled “Seriously”, sung by Leslie Odom Jr, about what Obama’s inner thoughts must have been during the election. I’ve been repeating these lyrics to my daughter: ‘In a history plagued with incredible mistakes, still I pledge my allegiance to these United divided States.'” -Cynthia Bond

Farewell, America: Moyers & Company, November 10, 2016

By Neal Gabler
Neal Gabler
Neal Gabler [Source: Moyers & Company]
“We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.” -Neal Gabler

This is just a sample of what’s out there. You can also search online for your favorite authors responses by their names.

The Importance of “What” and “Why”

new yorker hillary clinton donald trump campaign reading

I’ve written a couple of blog posts about what writers can learn from the current political campaigns. A piece in the October 31st issue of The New Yorker takes a different approach.


presumptive thomas mallon campaign reading
Thomas Mallon is a novelist, essayist, and critic whose book Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years is now available in paperback. His novels usually portray politics and politicians from a POV other than the political “star.”  In “Presumptive” he talks about who would be his protagonist if he were to write a novel based on 2016—and why. He makes some excellent points about what makes an effective main character.


the unconnected campaign reading
The same issue of The New Yorker features an article by George Packer. Although he starts with an interview with Hillary Clinton, the bulk of the article is tracing the historical bases of current allegiances to the Republican and Democratic parties. He’s thorough and scholarly but highly readable. Read it with a view to what makes compelling nonfiction.


Whether you lean toward fiction or nonfiction, the principles of a good story are the same: you need a compelling what (in the form of a character and/or event) and a believable why (the motivation or circumstances that molds the outcome).


american nations colin woodard
[Photo credit: Amazon]
Continuing the election-related focus, I recommend Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America.  It might just as well be titled “The United States and How It Got This Way.” His premise is that sub-cultures within the U.S. today can be understood in terms of who settled various parts of the continent, when, and under what circumstances. His labeling of the regions takes a bit of getting used to, but he provides a map. Overall, he has closely tied what to why in a highly readable and (for me) informative book.


FINAL TAKEAWAY: Election season is a great time to read voraciously!