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A half mile north of Poets & Writers’ New York City office is the site of the new World Trade Center towers, which are rising at the rate of approximately one floor per week into the sky above lower Manhattan. No one reading this needs to be reminded of the significance of this year’s anniversary, but the occasion does offer an opportunity to consider the many ways in which the nation’s creative writers have responded in their work—or not, as the case may be—to the terrorist attacks. In “The Literature of 9/11,” on page 42, contributing editor Kevin Nance takes a long look at a good-sized shelf of novels and poetry and story collections that have been published in the past decade, and he speaks with many of the authors to find out not only when and how they wrote about the events of 9/11 and their aftermath, but also—and perhaps more important—why.
“It’s the most momentous thing that has happened to us in America for quite some time, and that’s what fiction is for, isn’t it?” asks Amy Waldman, whose debut novel, The Submission, was published last month. “To give us a totally different angle on such a remarkable event, to try to understand it? To help us live our own history through an imaginary lens?” Julie Otsuka certainly seems to think so. The author of the new novel The Buddha in the Attic tells Renee H. Shea in “The Urgency of Knowing” (50) that through writing she excavates and explores her personal Japanese heritage within a larger historical context. “There was so much silence in my family about what happened during World War II,” she says, “and a lot of repressed anger and sadness, too, so writing the novel helped me to understand what that silence was all about.”
In “Why We Write: The Space That Separates Us” (37), Laurie Rachkus Uttich puts it rather succinctly when she recalls the words of C. S. Lewis, who was supposedly the first to have said, “We do not write to be understood. We write to understand.” Uttich doesn’t tackle anything as terrible or historically significant as 9/11, but that doesn’t mean the message in her writing is any less profound: “I found God on a white piece of paper,” she writes of a childhood realization she had about herself. “It would not have occurred to me to leave it blank.” Whatever you choose to write about today, dig a little deeper and make it matter—to yourself, to all of us.