We talked with several writers who will be at Winter Institute about how they and their work have been affected by today’s world crises. We asked them, “How has your writing been influenced by crisis and the struggle for peace, freedom, and safety?” Below are their responses.
Poet, essayist, and novelist Julia Alvarez, whose first novel for adults in nearly 15 years, Afterlife, will be published by Algonquin in April:
“I grew up during a 31-year dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. All official avenues of communication were controlled by the regime; stories were the only way to keep the spark of freedom alive, to encode the things that were being erased. So I’ve always thought of storytelling as activism. My favorite storybook was the Arabian Nights, about a girl named Scheherazade who lives under a cruel sultan and keeps herself alive and saves all the women in her kingdom by telling stories. I am one of her daughters.”
Nonfiction writer Erik Larson, whose latest book is The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz, due out from Crown in February:
“Crisis is the wellspring of all story, but what has particularly intrigued me is how crisis—storm, war, political terror—breeds fear, which in turn summons forth both cowardice and heroism. How, for example, does one endure the nightly bombing of one’s home city, as did Churchill and his family in 1940–1941, during eight months of near-nightly air raids on London? One answer was Churchill himself, who taught the world the art of being fearless—something we could all benefit from now, in this age when expedience, hypocrisy, and institutional cowardice seem to rule the day.”
Novelist and bookseller Emma Straub, who co-owns Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, N.Y., and whose new novel, All Adults Here, is due out from Riverhead in May:
“Though on the surface my novels, which are usually about people whose deepest struggles are within themselves and their families, are not affected by external world crises, I have learned at my bookstore how often people are looking for books to bring them out of a struggle of their own: a book for a family member to read in a hospital, or a book to read after a hard year. That’s where my books come in, which is something that I feel good about—providing an affordable, immediate escape when people need it. I think we all have our skills as writers, and our roles, and if that’s mine I’m proud of it.”