Do Writers Also Have to Be Protesters?

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Pankaj Mishra has always been a politically outspoken writer, so when Mo Yan, who has defended the Chinese government’s censorship, won the Nobel Prize, Mishra was the last person anyone expected to defend him.

But he did, asking, “Do we ever expose the political preferences of Mo Yan’s counterparts in the West to such harsh scrutiny?”

For Guernica, Kamila Shamsie interviews Mishra about this opinion as well as his views more generally on any writer’s duty to challenge political power.

It’s an intense read—Shamsie really pushes him to articulate what he means and commit to it—and full of vital, interesting thoughts about the writer’s relationship to political injustice in the twenty-first century. Here’s an excerpt:

Writers in “free” societies labor under no such constraints. They can write more or less whatever they want in both their fiction and their commentary. Yet so many of them look oddly inhibited, even timid, and depressingly a couple of prominent figures actually positioned themselves to the right of their governments, intelligence agencies, and corporations.


Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →