First published in 1979, John Gardner’s classic On Moral Fiction explores what he believed to be the moral obligation of literature. Using provocative language and critical knowledge amassed from years as a professor of writing and literature, Gardner posits that “art discovers, generation after generation, what is necessary to humanness,” and that all writers should raise the stakes of their work. “The artist’s imagination, or the world it builds, is the laboratory of the unexperienced, both the heroic and the unspeakable,” he writes. “Art is as original and important as it is precisely because it does not start out with clear knowledge of what it means to say. Out of the artist’s imagination, as out of nature’s inexhaustible well, pours one thing after another.” Decades later, Gardner’s treatise on writing moral fiction continues to challenge and inspire all those who encounter it.
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