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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


During the first half of the twentieth century Eric Arthur Blair, writing under pseudonym of George Orwell, wrote the iconic political novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four.

His stated ambition was to make political writing into an art.

To explore whether political writing can be an art or alternatively if all creative writing is inherently political, I am proposing the following working definitions:

Art is a way of sharing how we see the world through imagination; that is seen as being beautiful and/or emotionally engaging.

Politics is the way people in groups make decisions and which people or groups have the power to make those decisions.

Caroline Criado Perez inform us that, ‘There is no such thing as non-political writing. There is only that which is powerful enough to seem neutral, and that which is not.’

We are all living in a world where our status and life experiences are determined by the politics that govern our personal and community lives.

Is our creative writing necessarily sprung from a well of imagination fed by those life defining factors?

Is it possible to free the imagination from what we have experienced in life, from what we have read, seen, and heard?

Lucy Ellmann tells us that, ‘Jane Austen’s work is full of class and gender injustice – her influence on feminism is subterranean but immense. Even Mary Shelley’s Frankentstein is political: a study in hubris, loneliness and ostracism.’

Jane Austen’s ‘subterranean but immense’ political influence stems not from a clearly defined and articulated political perspective but from her experience of the world she lived in; how she perceived that world as expressed through her imagination.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with its origin as a ghost story told during a lockdown with such as Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley , exploded from an imagination fired by the maelstrom of political activity swirling around her world; the ‘enlightenment’ and ‘reformation’. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin and her mother philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

Bernardine Evaristo postulates, ‘All books operate in a culture where hierarchies of power are played out, and all fiction deals with power-play because it is at the heart of conflict which drives narrative. However, I would argue that political fiction more consciously engages with society’s hierarchies and the public and private battles that are a consequence of the reality.’

This takes us to consideration of intent. For writing to be termed political it must be consciously created as such by the author; an exploration of political perspectives or a more polemical expounding of a political theory through storytelling.

As Charles Moore states, ‘Political writing is certainly an art, in that it is not a science.’

John Lanchester adds, ‘There is lots of political writing which is very effective but isn’t art [Marx’s Das Capital, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom], and lots of literature in which politics are barely present.’

As we continue to live in a world where the current ‘normal’ is more ‘virtual’ than ‘real’ and choices have to be made about how we engage with a rapidly expanding world of creativity It is important that we are mindful of both the author’s intentions in overtly political creative writing and the influences of the politics that define all creative writers’ life experiences.

We should be encouraging readers of all ages, ethnicities, gender orientations and socio-economic backgrounds to avoid being immersed in the content of their currently inhabited silos: to pop up meerkat like and take notice of the full spectrum of creative writing.

That is not to deny personally held principles but to challenge them and become better armed to share those principles from the foundation of a deeper understanding of the diversity of life experiences that motivate and inform both creative and overtly political writing.

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