I have always been an avid fiction reader. It is my port in most storms, including the storms of activism.
I like a range of fiction. I read, or rather, listen to, several audiobooks a week. I wake up to books, and go to sleep to books. And yes, fellow authors, if I say your novel put me to sleep, that’s a compliment!
But some years ago I began to be bothered by something I continually ran into. You know how once you notice something new, you tend to see it everywhere? Well, this happens to me with activists in fiction.
Except I didn’t notice activists everywhere; I noticed their absence. Social issues come up all the time in novels, but generally* characters struggle with them individually, and if they do find solutions, they are individual as well.
Alongside the general erasure of activists, I noticed something else. In the relatively few instances when activists do appear in stories, all too often they are stereotyped as angry, hypocritical, overbearing, etc.
After I got too annoyed with this to keep ignoring it. Rather than dash my listening device–Walkman, iPod or smartphone, depending on which decade it was–on the ground and stomping on it, I decided instead to do something. (An existential hazard of being an activist).
Three things, to be precise:
- Writing my own fiction centering activist characters
- Writing articles and reviews about activists in fiction
- Encouraging, and subsequently organizing youth and adults to write fiction where characters act collectively to confront a common issue.
* Science fiction and fantasy often feature revolutions and uprisings. This is interesting, because clearly that is a favored plot element, a key way story feeds people’s need to see both justice and collective action–the latter at times in uneasy relation to the prevailing trope of the individual hero vanquishing the enemy. What we rarely see are social movements in realistic fiction, even when collective action against an injustice in the story is a clear alternative for the characters.