I had the pleasure of seeing Les Miserables at the Orpheum Theater this past weekend and I was struck by how very relevant Victor Hugo’s story is, even today. To me, the major themes of the story are redemption and the struggle for social justice. Or perhaps, a better way to put this is that the central questions that the story poses are: is complete redemption ever really possible? And also: when and how will we be able to build a truly just society?
During a few of the ensemble pieces, I couldn’t help but think of how relevant Hugo’s social commentary still is. There I was, sitting comfortably in a plush theater while the themes portrayed in Les Miserables were playing out on the streets of present-day San Francisco. It is impossible to ignore the fact that poverty, hunger and inequality still plague us. When I walk to work, I pass the huddled forms of my fellow human beings sleeping on the sidewalk, see countless outstretched hands that beg for spare change. Poverty in America, in 2012, is very real, very present. I do not pretend to understand the countless, complex and interwoven causes of serious poverty and homelessness in America, but I know that our continued attempts to end poverty in this country will have to be as multi-faceted as the problems they seek to address.
So why do I write fiction, then? When there are people who go hungry every day, how can I sit in front of my computer and write detailed accounts of people and events that never existed and never happened? It is something that I struggle with, and certainly part of my motivation for writing my novel is purely selfish: I just love to write. However, I also write fiction because I care about the world, and I sincerely believe that literature can inspire, transform and motivate us en route to a better world. Regardless of what becomes of my writing, it is important to me to examine the world through words, to try to make sense of human life by writing and sharing stories.
So today, I write.