Writer as Curator of Life: E.B White and Writerly Responsibility

I love this article about E.B. White and the responsibility of an author. A quote from White:

“The writer’s role is what it has always been: he is a custodian, a secretary. Science and technology have perhaps deepened his responsibility but not changed it. In ‘The Ring of Time,’ I wrote: ‘As a writing man, or secretary, I have always felt charged with the safekeeping of all unexpected items of worldly or unworldly enchantment, as though I might be held personally responsible if even a small one were to be lost. But it is not easy to communicate anything of this nature.’

A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me. One role of the writer today is to sound the alarm. The environment is disintegrating, the hour is late, and not much is being done. Instead of carting rocks from the moon, we should be carting the feces out of Lake Erie.”

I think this is particular interesting when paired with E.B. White as a writer of early middle grade novels. I wish I could remember who said this, but within the last year or so I came across a blog post about how middle grade novels are often so full of heart and hope. It sounds like White’s views reflect that. And it’s part of why I like writing for teens–even if there’s a fair amount of anger in a YA novel, it’s not without hope. (Trying to think of a YA novel that doesn’t end with total despair, even if things aren’t perfect or even resolved.)

And I like that White balances out with the idea of “sounding the alarm.” Writing isn’t just meant to convey happy thoughts. We need to be aware of the bad stuff in the world, while also recognizing the good.

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