Monday, June 17, 2013

Writing for Change

S. L. Duncan

Last night, I had the chance to attend a presentation by the author of one of my favorite books, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SONS. Author Khaled Hosseini included Birmingham on his whirlwind tour to promote his most recent book, AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED. He proved to be a fantastic and entertaining presenter, and a very personable guy despite a somewhat clumsy interviewer. Who asks someone from Afghanistan if there is anything surprising that they pack for a plane flight?

The answer is nothing. Nothing surprising whatsoever.

Anyway, Hosseini revealed that AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED and THE KITE RUNNER were both the result of those thunderstruck moments that inspires an idea which inevitably unravels into a novel. You’ve probably heard many of the FTWA gang discuss this process. But Hosseini then told the audience that A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS was the result of a more direct approach. He set out to write a book about the misogyny found in the modern culture of Afghanistan. In effect, he wanted to write a story that put on display the hardships of the everyday lives of women there. And he did so with great effect.

In a way, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS quits being a piece of entertaining, moving fiction and becomes something more. It becomes activism. In the wake of his success, Hosseini has started the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which is doing amazing work bettering the lives of those in Afghanistan while raising awareness here in the West.

I sat there, in the auditorium, hearing these amazing things he’s done, feeling somewhat inept, and it struck me that none of the good Hosseini's brought to the world would have been possible without his work as an author. It got me wondering about what sort of impact my writing will have. Certainly, the subject matter of my work doesn’t exactly lend itself to changing the world, but hopefully it’ll have some effect. Hopefully, you’ll learn something either about yourself or the world around you.

So then, should we as authors be writing to better the world or elicit some sort of change? Is it our duty to be voices for those that suffer injustices and then demand those injustices to be righted? Khaled Hosseini did it very intentionally with A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS. Should we follow his example? Or is your work already primed to make the world a better place?

S. L. Duncan writes young adult fiction, including his debut, the first book in The Revelation Saga, due in 2014 from Medallion Press. You can find him blogging on and on Twitter.


SC Author said...

I also went to one of his tour spots here near Chicago! And I do want to elicit change due to my writing -- it's one of the reasons that I write.

JeffO said...

Hosseini is an amazing writer. I did not know about his foundation.

As for eliciting change, I think you have to be very careful to walk the line between delivering a message effectively and coming across as preachy or overdoing it. You don't want the message to overwhelm the story. Hosseini did a brilliant job on 1000 Splendid Suns.

Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

Hosseini is brilliant, and he does a wonderful job of illustrating a story that speaks to us of a concept. he doesn't tell is what to think. That's the best kind of story.

Matt Sinclair said...

Personally, I think a writer's first job is to capture and hold a reader's attention. That can be through entertainment or conveying opinion and insight, and it can be done by doing both. Changing the world can be done indirectly by changing a reader, but I won't hold it against a writer whose work I enjoy if he doesn't also do something that gets him on a short list for the Nobel Peace Prize.