top of page

Should Authors Share Political Views? Lessons from The Ragged Edge of Night

Olivia Hawker's conviction versus convention

finger holding an "I voted" sticker

Recently, I read and reviewed a book called The Ragged Edge of Night by author, Olivia Hawker. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and appreciated the fact that it was based on the true story of her husband's grandfather's actions during World War II.


The story itself was marvelous, but it was the author's comments at the end of the book that stirred up the ire of many and caused me to consider a philosophical question I'd never thought about before: Should authors share their political views with their readers?


Historical notes and author's remarks


At the end of the book, Olivia Hawker includes a section called "Historical Notes and Authors Remarks." Here, she explains the family history behind the novel. Hawker also explains her impetus for writing this book. She had previously considered writing about the tales of her husband's grandfather but decided to move ahead with other projects, putting aside the story of "Opa's bells" until later.


The election of 2016 changed her mind.


Hawker writes that she no longer recognized the United States, a country that had devolved into a place where

"swastikas blomed like fetid flowers on the walls of synagogues and mosques."

She felt compelled to write The Ragged Edge of Night immediately.


Corresponding events

On the August night in 2017 when Hawker finished writing The Ragged Edge of Night, white supremacists marched on the University of Virginia. Hawker notes her fear and frustration, knowing that the marchers chanted "Jews will not replace us!" and "Blood and soil..." the same thing as Nazi troops chanted during World War II.


Hawker writes in her remarks at the end of the novel,

"History is never very far behind us. It's the familiar ghost we trail in our wake...We are fools to imagine the past remains in the past."

What I didn't expect - and what threw me into a philosophical quandary - were the reactions Hawker's comments provoked in her readers.


Mixing politics and fiction in The Ragged Edge of Night


Apparently, an author offends people when she expresses her beliefs directly instead of swathing them in plot and character.


Fiction is a "story," by many accounts, and should not be sullied by personal viewpoints. The conventional wisdom is that politics should not be discussed by authors, and readers seem to agree.




Here are just a few of the responses. Names were not included in the thread or had been deleted in most cases:


"Nobody wants to read your political rants. You can have whatever political views you want. It doesn't belong in your book unless you're writing a book about your political views."

The_timps / 3 years ago

"...The smaller your audience is the more middle of the road you need to be.Unless your brand and voice, and therefore sales are hinged on an extreme point of view, you should have as few of them [political comments] as possible.
As a new author you have a small audience of people willing to take a chance on you.And then you shrink that audience by the genre you choose.And then you shrink it by whether your advertising and marketing reaches them.
It's definitely not wise to shrink it further because you want to complain about the president."

Finally,


If you're writing "Animal Farm" or "Fahrenheit 451" then political views are what the reader came to see. If you're writing "Adventures of the Dragon Rider" or "Historical Bodice Ripper" or "Alien Romance" .... then no. Absolutely not. That's not why the reader picked up your book. They're reading to escape from reality, to get away from constant, unrelenting political commentary we're subjected to every day on seemingly every platform imaginable.
As to authors who drone on and one about their personal POV on social issues on blogs or in the back of their novels.... again. No. Please don't. I remember one particular author who just had to put in the back of their book a rambling commentary about how they came to their political POV. It was, frankly, the most narcissistic and self-aggrandizing B.S I've read in many years. I lost all respect for the author and refused to read any more of their work.

On Goodreads, Olivia Hawker's book received multiple one-star reviews for her novel, The Ragged Edge of Night, because readers were angry that she included her personal viewpoints in a few pages at the end of the book.


Convention versus conviction


Most agents and publishers advise writers NOT to outwardly express political viewpoints.


But others believe it is courageous - and right - to stand up for your convictions. Sales be damned.


Such is the opinion of Tammy February, posting on News 24: Should Authors Use Their Platforms to be Outspoken about Political Issues?"


"For me, fiction has always been a fantastic means to tackle issues that people would generally steer away from, so seeing this reflected in not only the author’s writing, and hearing them speak out about it is something that has become increasingly more important to me."

As writers, aren't we interested in what causes authors to tell their stories? Aren't we curious about motivations and emotional tugs that compel us to write about certain topics at certain times? Regardless of whether I agree with an author's politics, as a writer, I'm interested in what motivated them to write it. Understanding where the author is coming from gives me deeper insight and richer comprehension.


An uptick in political books

Interestingly, sales of books about politics skyrocketed during 2018. The Guardian reports that books based on politics and government were the fastest-growing non-fiction category increasing by 170%.


It's not that people don't want to read about politics. It's that they don't want to listen to the author's political viewpoints when reading fiction.


Courage, conviction, and convention

I have always wondered if I would have had the courage to shelter a family during World War II. If I would have given food, clothing, and medical treatment to refugees. If I would have led people to safety over brutal mountain hikes or acted as a radio operator in some isolated attic.


Would I have been willing to risk my life to deliver messages or spy on the enemy?


Hopefully, I'll never know.


But I do like to think that I'd follow Olivia Hawker's example and not be afraid to state my convictions. I'd like to think that I'd have the guts to explain the motivation and timing for writing a book that I felt was important to release into the world. Hawker displayed courage of conviction - a rare thing indeed - in stating her very personal reasoning for writing The Ragged Edge of Night. She quotes Desmond Tutu:

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Hawker reminds us that as writers, we have power. We can choose to use it or shy away from it.


"We are the resistance, you and I. No force can silence us unless we permit it. I prefer to roar."

Olivia Hawker's experience is a cautionary tale for writers, provoking philosophical questions that each author must decide for herself:


Do I, or Don't I, reveal my politics?

 

Buy The Ragged Edge of Night from Bookshop.org (supports independent bookstores)


Buy The Ragged Edge of Night from Barnes and Noble (brick and mortar & online retailer)


Buy The Ragged Edge of Night from Better World Books (used books that donate a book from every sale to literacy efforts)

Comments


bottom of page