Many writers will tell you they knew they wanted to become a writer almost as soon as they could read. Remembering that first journal someone gave them, they wax eloquent about the initial thrill of putting pen to paper. I’m not one of those writers. Don't get me wrong. I loved writing in notebooks with my collection of pens. And I even had a fancy old-fashioned desk, complete with secret drawers and hidden chambers in which to stash less well-crafted prose. But I didn’t really discover I wanted to spend my life writing until after I had already published several books.
My first books were academic ones written in fairly conventional—and occasionally obtuse—scholarly prose. Compassionate Authority: Democracy and the Representation of Women, The Political Interests of Gender, Women Transforming Politics were some of the titles. Not surprising, this list of titles, given my education and academic career in political theory and women’s studies.
Except for a few passages in one of those books, where I let myself break into story-telling, I tended to confine my prose within the familiar language and argumentative style of political theory. Nothing wrong with that. I’m proud of these books and the conversation about basic political ideas they joined. But today, I practice a different art.
Instead of the art of analysis and argument, I practice the art of imagination.
I came to literary writing in my mid-forties, later than most. My writing shifted when I decided to tell the story of the murder of a young student of mine.
At first, I approached that story like every other academic topic I had researched—as a philosophical problem to solve. But I wasn’t getting close to understanding what happened. I hadn’t let the event get under my skin.
Then I went to Sweden for four months. And there, far away from familiar surroundings, I began to write a very different kind of book.
Living Between Danger and Love became a memoir about loss and the unsettling of self loss entails. It became a meditation on mourning.
The philosopher/novelist Rebecca Goldstein explained that tackling intellectual problems requires more than cognition. To understand a philosophical problem, you must also “feel the problem.” Unlike Iris Murdoch, who considered literature and philosophy opposing enterprises, I think these two disciplines grapple with some of the same topics—for instance, what does it mean to be human? How do we deal with loss? Both creative non-fiction and fiction plumb our emotional connections to intellectual concerns.