Conversation with Percival Everett: Politics in Writing

Percival Everett asked me what I hoped to do with my writing. After some thought, I replied: --I want to turn my reader on. I want to inspire, encourage + provoke.

He seemed to like that answer because he went back to it later on in our discussion of fiction. But when I lamented to Percival that writers aren't allowed to have politics in their novels (unless they're European or genre writers), at least not without being brandished as polemical or tendentious, he said: --Jackson, I wouldn't worry about that. The fact is, your politics will come out in your writing, whether you mean to or not.

I really like that answer. But is it true? Possibly. But what about all of the apolitical, vaguely-left-leaning literary fiction writers in America who don't have salient political opinions for the simple reason that they aren't interested, can't keep up with, or don't want to deal with politics at all? Is it because they're apolitical that there's nothing to come out in their writing? I mean, if you don't really know what the fuck is happening in Darfur, or you're not keeping up with the civilian death toll in Iraq, or you routinely avoid the World News section in the New York Times, then it seems very possible that you may have no politics at all--a quintessentially American attribute, as it turns out--and maybe, for that reason, you politics can't come to the surface in your writing for the simple reason that you don't have any to begin with.

So, maybe Percival is right: if you have politics in mind, they inevitably come out. But if you don't, they don't. This leads to the question: considering how apolitical most American literary fiction is, how far removed + disconnected are fiction writers from the material, social + political realms?