The editors of 2paragraphs asked 21 international writers the following questions:
Who do you write for? Tolstoy wrote: "I know that my unity with all people cannot be destroyed by national boundaries." Is a similar belief essential in your work?
"I believe in the fundamental unity of all people," answers Ben Okri, who was raised in both Nigeria and England. "It is not possible to write truly well without that fundamental belief. One does not write for a class, religion, race or nation. Writing is an unavoidably inward activity. One writes to the reading mind, to the mind that thinks, dreams, feels, and experiences all the dimensions of reality. It could be said that one is really writing to one living mind which is the mind of all people. This does not mean that one's life has not been affected by historical facts, geography, the mood of one's times -- events that shape a life. But when one sits down or stands up to write, it can really only be to the minds and hearts of the living.
"Writing well is a mysterious adventure," Okri continues. "It is an art; and an act of faith that the right words in their best order will be received through the eyes of readers and pass into their minds, drawing upon their emotions and their life experiences. From the meeting of the reader's spirit and the text something altogether new is created in the consciousness. Writing is primarily the art and craft of activating another consciousness. The effect of this at its best is immeasurable."
"I think my answer lies, rather indelicately, somewhere between the two sentiments," responds Cumbrian writer Sarah Hall. "I am very interested in how place shapes people, historically, culturally, for good and ill, the rich specificity of each place and its commonalities, and I try to investigate this in my work. I would not say that this necessarily limits me to the North of England, where I was raised, though much of my work is set there. A tragic damn-building novel set in the Lake District in the 1930s might appeal and chime with societies in contemporary India and China -- hopefully it will. And perhaps it is fair to say that the more local, the more intimate a writer becomes with characters and regions, paradoxically the more universal the fiction might become. If one is detailing the experiences and make-up of a character, their emotions, their plight in a changing world, one is likely to create a 'real' human being, with a meaningful and complex psychology, motivations, capabilities and incapacities -- at best, humanely transferable between cultures. I like to think that readers, and people generally, are wonderfully empathetic. Similarly, the fate of nations, districts, square miles, though varied the world over and individually unique, if catalogued well, might begin to seem shared and understood. We, and our habits, are really only 'exotic' and 'other' if not entered into, if left at surface level.
"Who I write for is perhaps harder to answer," she continues. "There is no manifest or ideal person -- a mother, mentor or devil -- sitting on my shoulder, encouraging me or provoking me. The instinct to write is endogenous, much to do with imagination and modes of expression, but there are external vectors too, of course -- the desire to play adult make-believe, to be inspired by and to add to the exquisite chorus of writers' voices, and to move readers. Readers: how tricky it is to know who those people will be. I write for neither men nor women specifically, no type, no age, no political sect. And I am constantly amazed by the great mix of people who approach me to say they have found something worthwhile, exhilarating or off-putting, companionable or challenging, in my fiction. It is far better to try to write persuasively and compassionately, with an open heart and an investigative mind, than try to gauge who might like what kind of story or why."
"In my writing, as in my life, I tend to blur boundaries," says Eduardo Halfon. "Cultural boundaries, national boundaries, boundaries between genres, boundaries between languages, boundaries between myself and my narrator (he too is named Eduardo Halfon, he too has my same bio and background and salt-and-pepper beard), boundaries between what’s fiction and what’s not. My unity with readers, to follow Tolstoy, comes precisely by destroying all boundaries, by removing them, and thus letting my voice be whatever it needs to be, at anytime, to anyone.
"Although I’m Jewish, I’m also Arab. Although I’m Latin American, I’m also not. Although I’m a writer who plays by ear and improvisation, I’m also a systematic and neurotic engineer. Although I only write in Spanish, as I write, the words, in my head, are always in English. Although I was born in Guatemala, grew up in Florida and North Carolina, spent time in Spain (even became a citizen), and am now living in Nebraska, I have no idea what it means to be Guatemalan or American or Spanish -- but I can dress the part and modify my accent and perfectly pretend to be any of these. I’m whatever you want or need me to be. I’m the blank tile that completes the word. I’m the joker in the deck, maybe smiling, maybe not."
Here's a post from 2014 which asks the same question: "Who do you write for?" The answers are from Maya Angelou, John Updike, Audre Lord, Junot Diaz, Michael Morpurgo, Ann Patchett, Marianne Moore, Richard Ford. And me.
So, who do you write for?