Literary Activism is a project that enquires into the ways in which creative practice, including literary writing, intersects with and is shaped by a range of critical practices and cultural forces. By ‘critical practices’ we mean, among other things, the ways in which writers can make an intervention in their field, in the process challenging clichés and the habit of viewing creativity a-historically (that is, as existing completely independently of its historical context).
Started in 2014 by the India- and Britain-based author Amit Chaudhuri, Literary Activism has sparked a conversation about the social and structural underpinnings of all writing, from prize-winning work through to creative writing in schools. This project intersects in several ways with the interests we have on Writers Make Worlds in writing and reading, such as the question of how certain kinds of writing are promoted or not, and how books reach us as readers.
Literary Activism features symposia and discussions involving writers, readers, teachers, lecturers and critics looking at these different questions in relation to a range of topics including ‘market activism’, the predominance of storytelling forms in contemporary literature, and the work of decolonization—as well as what it means to really admire, even adore, a favourite writer. These conversations are captured on the website. An interesting example is the discussion of ‘deprofessionalisation’ in which writers and artists explore how they can diverge from the genre or form they’re most identified with. For example, what happens when you’re called a novelist but actually prefer to write poetry?
Literary activism is not the same as activism through literature, important as that is. Instead, it looks at ‘un-fixing’ static positions in writing, reading and reception. The project seeks to redirect the flow of literary worlds, so that energies don’t always move in the directions we have come to expect—say, from London or New York out to the rest of the world.
Literary Activism editor Amit Chaudhuri is the author of seven novels, the latest of which is Friend of My Youth (2017). He is also an essayist, poet, musician, and composer. His new book, Finding the Raga, about his relationship to Indian classical music, is published in April 2021. His third book of poetry, Ramanujan, will be published a month later, in May. Awards for his fiction include the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Encore Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and the Indian government’s Sahitya Akademi Award. He is the recipient of the first Infosys Prize in the Humanities. His first novel, A Strange and Sublime Address (1991), was included in Colm Toibin and Carmen Callil’s The Modern Library: The 200 Best Novels of the Last 50 Years. The 25th anniversary edition of his second novel, Afternoon Raag (1993), appeared in 2019 with a new introduction by James Wood. He is Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia, Professor of Creative Writing at Ashoka University, and an honorary fellow at Balliol College, Oxford. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2020 became an honorary fellow of the Modern Language Association of America. He has conceptualised ‘literary activism’ as a form of intervention in creative practice and the humanities, and edits literaryactivism.com.
Cite this: “Literary Activism.” Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, 2021, https://writersmakeworlds.com/literary-activism/. Accessed 22 March 2021.
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