Ayad Akhtar on Why Literature Isn’t Just a ‘Bleeding-Heart Liberal’ Preoccupation
This Week on The Literary Life Podcast
On this episode of The Literary Life, novelist and playwright Ayad Akhtar talks with Mitchell Kaplan about pursuing poetic truth in his new novel, Homeland Elegies; his forthcoming role as president of PEN America; and what happened to the American psyche that resulted in the election of Donald Trump.
From the episode:
Ayad Akhtar: The things that really excite me the most are the drive to have the organization have an increasingly national presence, for writers across the great heartland of America to also have involvement with PEN, not just that you’re on the coast or that you’re in New York City. And then to continue to make the case, which feels like it’s getting harder and harder, that reading really matters, that deep reading matters, that literature is committed to values that make our public discourse more valuable, whether it’s the ability to brook contradiction or the ability to have emotionally valent responses to things.
Literature is that par excellence, and I just feel more and more the importance of literature, both in the educational process, the collapse of colleges and liberal arts. The teaching of literature to me is a real crisis for us, not just as writers but as a society. Making the case that literature really does matter, not as a well-intentioned, bleeding-heart liberal kind of preoccupation for folks who have enough time for it, but that it really matters, that it matters to understand how to situate yourself in your life with others and in the world.
Ayad Akhtar is a novelist and playwright. His work has been published and performed in over two dozen languages. He is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.