Shaun David Hutchinson Is Taking a Break | Writing and Reading in the Trump Era

Author Shaun David Hutchinson considers taking a step back from darker narratives that reflect the trauma and struggles of the world as it is now, focusing instead on "telling stories about the world we could live in."

Editor’s note: This op-ed is part of a series being published throughout fall 2019. We asked a number of notable children’s and YA authors to write short essays on “writing and reading in the Trump era.” Be sure to read the first in the series by Laurie Halse Anderson. Check for future essays by David Bowles, Kate Messner, and others.

Anger is exhausting. Living with an infected knot of pus and seething rage in the pit of your stomach makes it difficult to get on with the mundane tasks of living. How can I clean the bathroom when Trump is putting children in cages? How can I go to the grocery store when Trump is praising fascists? How can I go for a jog, or pay attention in class, or write a single page of a single book when Trump is defending Nazis and encouraging violence against Muslim communities and undermining the hard-fought victories won by the LGBTQIA+ community? How can any of us do anything but rage while that orange horror of a human being occupies the White House?

When I was writing under Obama, I felt a sense of hope. I knew we still had many difficult battles to fight, but it seemed like the nation was on the right path. As a result, I wrote stories that reflected the world we were living in. Stories that explored the deep pain and division that still existed and remained hidden in the shadows. Stories that didn't flinch from the hard truths of the world but that ended on a hopeful note. Those books were often as difficult to write as they were to read, but it felt important to me to put them out there.

When Trump won the election, I thought I would write about revolutions. About dictators brought down by plucky groups of teens fighting with nothing but their courage and wits. I thought I would write stories filled with the same anger and fury that I was boiling over with. I thought I would write books that would serve as rallying cries for the rebellion.

But anger is exhausting. As time passed, and every day seemed to offer up some fresh new atrocity to inspire my outrage, I found that my own personal tastes had shifted. I shied away from books that traded solely in pain. I immediately quit watching TV shows where the gay characters died for no reason other than to exploit their suffering. I latched onto books like How to Be Remy Cameron by Julian Winters and TV programs like The Great British Baking Show and Pose. I sought out entertainment that still dealt with the realities of life but that also celebrated hope.

And the more I began embracing hope in the media I consumed, the more I began to incorporate it into the stories I was writing. With hatred and intolerance out of the shadows and unashamedly on display under Trump, I don't feel the need to remind teens of how awful the world can be. I don't need to warn them of the dangers of complacency. I don't need to inspire them to rage; they’re already furious. They’re already scared.

Recently, I was preparing a proposal for my agent for a historical young adult novel about rival magicians’ assistants who fall in love. The story is set in America at the beginning of the 20th century, a time when such a relationship would have been considered deviant behavior. In the proposal, at the end of my section describing the setting, I wrote, “The world of this story is the same as ours with two exceptions: 1) Magic is real. 2) Being queer isn't an issue.” Is it realistic to believe that being openly queer in America in 1908 would’ve been accepted? No. Do I care? No. It's my world; I can do whatever the hell I want.

And what I want is to take a break from telling stories about the world we live in, and to focus on telling stories about the world we could live in. I want to show teens a world that’s worth the struggle and pain they are inevitably going to have to endure as they fight to make life better. I want to show them a world where they can be who they are without fear of hatred or persecution. I want to give them more than weapons to fight with, I want to give them a world to fight for. Because being angry is exhausting. And it’s not always enough.

We still need stories that explore the darker aspects of humanity. I don’t want to diminish the importance of books that deal with difficult subjects. They’re just not the types of stories I want to tell right now. I still have to clean the toilet and do the laundry and sit my butt in a chair and write more books, regardless of how exhausted I am. But, at least for me, focusing on a future where we don’t have to be angry all the time makes it a little bit easier to keep going.

Shaun David Hutchinson is the author of numerous books for young adults, including Brave Face: A Memoir; The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried, The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, At the Edge of the Universe, and We Are the Ants.

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Jesemie Paine

As someone who grew up in a deeply conservative community and family who was rarely exposed to the sorts of narratives Hutchinson is writing about, I'm thrilled for anyone who's a teen now who has a chance to read books where they might actually be reflected on the page. The larger point is that writing for every type of kid shouldn't be seen as a threat. Hutchinson's right: anger is exhausting. (Imagine being upset by the prospect of students reading about refugees or trans characters! It must truly be wearying to be such a person.) Thank goodness for stories where hope has a chance to help and better futures can be conceived.

Posted : Feb 19, 2020 02:44

Shauna Dalton

This is ridiculous. I try to put forth good writing and works of fiction for my students. Not everything has to be left-wing political. All the award winners push themes of the poor victim refugee or the confused, bullied trans student. That's not the whole picture. Enough of those subjects. How about looking at all sides of experience? Like "keeping my baby instead of aborting it" or "respecting & supporting our military." I try to have diverse reading material, but this liberal agenda is too much.

Posted : Sep 24, 2019 05:25



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