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How We Write On Social Tragedy

September 11, 2011

The Sunday Salon.com

Ten years ago, today…

No, I can’t start like that.

Oh, fine, maybe I can.

I have been thinking about this day for almost a decade. Yes, I am an anniversary lady.

That being said, while I may have been anticipating the way our nation would find itself ten years following the events of September 11, 2001, I myself have no real thoughts on the event that are deeply personal or different than anyone else’s who lost no one.  I was close in proximity, the day the towers fell, even if I wasn’t close to anyone lost. I had just moved to New York for school, just met my future (now, current) husband and was headed to my second week of classes. 20 miles away, things went, I suppose you might say, terribly wrong, one Tuesday morning.

The way I think it effected me the most, as a then budding political science major, was in the macroscopic. Because the tragedy unfolded hours into my four-year degree of studying the world, my next several years were dedicated to very different focuses than they would have been, I’m sure, had the towers not been brought down.

At the time, I was ahead of the current Dystopian curve, making remarks about Orwellian reactions to crisis but it seems like even that reaction has been well mulled over at this point.

Instead of waxing political as I am prone to doing when I start thinking about such things, I thought I’d go after a different topic.

It seems that in the literary world, the biggest question circulating, right now, centers on the appropriate amount of time that we feel is socially acceptable for the release of novels, memoirs and other literary art pieces on the subject of a traumatic event. For me, it is a question of art. Though I am not drawn to the myriad outpourings of emotional recounts of the events, I do think that it’s important to support our emotional health as a society in many different ways.

The argument some are proposing of ten years falling too soon after the tragedy regarding publishing pieces, doesn’t resonate with me. For me, literature is art and art is a reflection of us as a people. Most physical art, music, stage or visual, is done very much in the moment. So why, then would literature be swiped to the side? Many of the best commentary and thought-provoking writing we have on past events were written at high noon of whatever crisis was occurring.

So, will I read all of the 9/11 books? Probably won’t go near a one. Do I think they are acceptable at this stage in the game? Yes. I think that they are acceptable and necessary and I hope to high hope that we, as a culture never stop writing and talking and creating when it comes to the things that we both suffer and enjoy, together.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2011 4:27 pm

    I think 9/11 books are fine as well, but I don’t think I’ll be seeking any out. It’s fine with that day is referenced in a book, though.

  2. September 11, 2011 5:33 pm

    I think that this was a very eloquent post. I sort of feel like it’s not too soon to be writing about it, and a lot of the books out there came out well before the 10th anniversary. In one way, I think that to gauge the most powerful kernel of the reading public’s feelings, one has to strike when the iron is hot, and feelings are high. This lets both authors and readers deal with the troubling emotions and visceral feelings that the event provoked. But on the other hand, a lot of people that were close to the tragedy would probably feel that even 10 years later is too soon, and where I do understand that, I think the efforts that authors undertake to interpret and deal with the tragedy in their books is a way for them to understand, on a personal level, just what the impact of that terrible day had on society. I also will not be reading any of these types of books, but it isn’t for any particular emotional reason.

  3. September 11, 2011 8:09 pm

    I feel like I’ve been reading post-9/11 books on and off for a few years now, but mostly fiction and the occasional memoir. It’s not a theme I particularly seek out, but it’s not one I shy away from, either. I don’t want to see it shoehorned into a story in an attempt at “relevance,” but I think it’s important for art to address real life.

  4. September 11, 2011 10:01 pm

    I think it’s fine to write about something when the writer feels the need but I do think that there’s something to be gained from reflection and from not rushing to produce something. That said, ten years is plenty of time. I’m not interested in books about 9/11 myself (fiction that is) but I respect those who write and read it.

  5. September 11, 2011 10:43 pm

    I remember reading Lisa Beamer’s “Let’s Roll” years ago (maybe 5?). I didn’t think it was too soon for her to tell her story then, and I certainly don’t think it’s too soon now for those who are sharing their personal stories.

    I did think that the fictitious movie that was made (called World Trade maybe???) a few years ago was too soon and in poor taste. But for literature to feature it as an event is perfectly fine, and works for me, as I said in my post today.

  6. September 12, 2011 3:37 am

    What a thought-provoking post. This anniversary must stir up a lot of memories for you, having been in New York at the time.

    I haven’t purposely read any 9/11 books, but the WTC figures into Everlost, by Neal Shusterman (2007), in a rather beautiful and poetic tribute, and I think it was well done.

  7. September 12, 2011 4:44 am

    I am fine with other people reading books about 9/11 and with the fact that there are so many documentaries etc out there. Personally, though, I think I am not yet ready to read or watch too many of them.

  8. September 15, 2011 6:04 pm

    I’ve read two books that had a 9/11 theme. One was fiction (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) and it dealt with 9/11 but also how things like 9/11 and the grief and stress they bring aren’t new to the world … these kinds of horrors have happened throughout history.

    The other one was non-fiction (Where Men Win Glory) and told the story of Pat Tillman, who joined the military as a result of 9/11 and lost his life due to friendly fire. It helped me to get a better handle on the history of why 9/11 happened and the way the Bush Administration made decisions before during and after it.

    As with all literature, I think it needs to come from a genuine place to feel authentic and worthwhile.

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