In the years since Orwell’s 1946 essay ‘Why I Write’ much has changed and yet much remains the same. In that essay he noted that every line he had written since 1936 had been ‘against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism’. It was, he said, ‘a nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows.’
It may not be possible in our current climate to identify two contrasting ideologies that constitute the threat and promise of our times as Orwell did, but what is ‘our period’ like? How are we writing about it? Why? Are we all on the same side?
Totalitarianism is resurgent from the left and the right with populism holding the shared ground. Liberalism is fighting off attacks from those who once fought under its banner. Religious wars show no sign of dissolving in the heady solvents of technological advance or social progress. Identity politics promised a means of determining difference but might also bring about a silencing of dissent.
Yet writers continue to try and make sense of where we are: their art and craft has never been more urgently needed. At the same time its commodification, competition from social media, changes in production and consumption of writing and ideas seem to be challenging the writer’s capacity to work, live and carry on creating their art.
Worlds 2018, ‘Why We Write’, makes a space to respond to his particular approach to the question of what motivates writers with a series of provocations from outstanding writers and translators; a space for debate, reflection, provocation, engagement and sharing. Marking the opening of the National Centre for Writing in England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, we will carve out three days to listen to writers, translators and thinkers identify the major challenges of our day, talk about how art might address them and share their motivations for writing.
CEO, National Centre for Writing