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Politics, Authors and Readers

image by Jasen Miller [1]
image by Jasen Miller

The question of whether or not authors should feel free to express their political views is not a new one. However, the current heated political environment gives the question new urgency; social media, too, makes the question a highly relevant one.

I’ve asked previously whether authors are obligated [2] to provide their true names and identities to their readership. Now I’m wondering whether it’s a good idea to keep our opinions to ourselves to avoid offending anyone, or whether such an expectation does an injustice to both writers and readers.

On some level, we all acknowledge that there is a difference between the art and the artist. In its most innocent form, this disconnect allows us to watch actors “fall in love” with people who aren’t their partners, praising their ability to imitate feelings they don’t feel. At its most insidious, it allows people to excuse the bad behavior of musicians, directors and other artists, claiming that who someone is isn’t relevant to what they make.

And as both consumers and makers of art, authors have to wonder: should I express myself fully, including my political views, on social media? Or does that mean losing readers?

When I first thought about writing this post, I thought I might structure it as guidance.  Something like Three Ways To Safely Express Your Political Views On Social Media. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized guidelines don’t really enter into it. Because no matter what you say, whether mild or wild, there’s the potential for someone who feels differently than you to be upset by it — even if you don’t intend to say something overtly political.

The First Amendment guarantees our right to free speech. What it doesn’t guarantee is speech free of consequences. So if you choose to express your political views, there’s always a chance you’ll lose friends, followers, readers, book clubs, or something else we writers value.

But in my view, that doesn’t mean we all need to avoid politics like the plague. I think it means that we have to look at our values, priorities and, yes, politics, and decide what’s important to us. Everyone’s comfort level is different. There are no rules.

So should you get political? That’s up to you. Your readers’ reactions, of course, are up to them.

About Jael McHenry [3]

Jael McHenry is the debut author of The Kitchen Daughter [4] (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 12, 2011). Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael and her book at jaelmchenry.com [5] or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.