Author Jenna Blum: “I didn’t become a writer to not say what I believe in”

A great writer hamming it up for the camera

Hamming it up for the camera, or searching for an angle that clarifies today’s America?

How does a socially conscious novelist speak her truth in the Age of Trump?

For my long-time friend Jenna Blum, author of the New York Times bestselling novel Those Who Save Us and one of Oprah’s Top 30 women writers, it means weaving her values into her stories, sharing her views on social media, and engaging in political activism.

On Saturday, Jenna was the featured speaker for a program hosted by the Boston chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, speaking on the “crucial role of women’s literary voices in literature in the current political climate, and the fusing of art, writing, and activism.” She gave a wonderful talk, mixing personal stories, an understanding of history, and a sense of humor laced with vocabulary befitting a native of New Jersey.

Jenna’s own life story infuses her political outlook and her alarm over the election of Donald Trump. The daughter of a Jewish father and news writer and a mother of German heritage, she grew up in a household surrounded by books and an awareness of 20th century history. To write Those Who Save Us, a story set in World War II Germany, for over a decade she immersed herself in the Nazi era, reading deeply and serving as an interviewer of concentration camp survivors for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Foundation.

This perspective fundamentally shapes her view of America’s current political situation. Referencing Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie, she said that Election Night 2016 was “like Carrie at the prom,” expecting “something awesome,” only to see it turn into a nightmare. Every morning, she wakes up knowing that “something bad has happened to my country.”

Her alarm over the Trump Administration has galvanized her into action, and she has now taken on the role of political activist. She also regularly uses her Facebook page to post action alerts and to share her views of the unfolding situation. (In the process, she sometimes fields criticisms from readers who are fans of her books — which I can attest she handles with both respect and honesty.)

Jenna’s success as a writer was not overnight. She turned Those Who Save Us into a bestseller through sweat equity, including exhaustive self-marketing, countless book club appearances, and talks across the country and internationally. It is to her credit that she is willing to risk some of that hard-earned privilege by urging us to resist what is going on in Washington D.C. today.

Such actions sometimes require facing fears personally. She talked about going to the January women’s march on Washington with names of lawyers written on her arm, in case she was detained and her cell phone was taken away. In fact, Jenna confessed that the Trump phenomenon has activated her “Anne Frank complex,” her label for “persistent fears that the Nazis are going to take me away.” Furthermore, she is aware that other authors are being counseled by publishers and friends to keep their political viewpoints to themselves, and she’s heard that advice as well.

But her remarks on Saturday made clear her belief that this is a time for people to step up and be counted. She is putting those beliefs into action. Besides, she said, “I didn’t become a writer to not say what I believe in.”

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2 responses

  1. David,

    http://www.truthdig.com/cartoon/item/dear_fourth_estate_20170227

    This is a great political cartoon that specifically supports this blog.

    I have written quite a bit about my experiences of being bullied and mobbed in the workplace. But alas, not being a member of a protected class, and being relatively poor, and without any Healthy Workplace type legislation, I really have no practical access to prosecute these workplace torts in a formal, legal way.

    Most of the hundreds of pages I have written have been presented to local attorneys, judges and the Grand Jury in an attempt to raise awareness of your proposed Healthy Workplace solutions in overseeing local government institutions. Some progress has been made in terms of highlighting preventative education respecting bullying, but I’m inclined to take an experimental approach to providing at least a little justice until more of our representatives can support some workplace anti-bullying legislation.

    When county departments and grand juries’ oversight responsibilities are at issue, I want my grand jury of citizen peers to be able to refer my case to the local restorative justice people and legally provide for subpoena power so that I can sit down with the workplace bullies and restorative justice people and let the facts come out. Sorry, but I see no reason in the world why this little bit of experimentation with justice processes couldn’t be done for someone who has stood up against Trump-like bullies and mobbers and has had his career destroyed.

    But back to writing and writers: I feel I have no choice at this time but to prosecute my case in the court of public opinion. I am very concerned about the legalities and conventions regarding the use of real names and real events in sending out my story. I would be grateful if workplace anti-bullying advocates would provide a summary of do’s and don’ts regarding prosecuting bullying victims’ cases in the court of public opinion. I believe victims of workplace abuse and malice have a right to be heard and the public needs to know about Trump-like liars and bullies in the workplace who should be encouraged, if not forced, to be accountable, to apologize, to make amends, and to provide for restoration and restitution.

    I just want a clear picture of the possible libel and slander and other issues I might face as I continue to tell the basic facts about my case to a wider public.

  2. David,

    Speaking of writing and writers, I found this ad on Truthdig.com:

    Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling
    Nobody I know is funnier, smarter, or has a wider breadth of references than my friend Jonathan Shapiro. This book is a bit of a miracle: informative, insightful, poetic, and funny. —Paul Reiser, comedian, actor, and bestselling author Using famous real-life court transcripts, television scripts, and story after story, Lawyers, Liars, and the Art of Storytelling shows the reader how to get their message across and the result they want using the time-tested elements and basic structure of great stories. Part how-to manual, part memoir, always entertaining and never lecture, this book provides storytelling lessons gleaned from years of trial practice and television writing, wrapped in—what else?—great stories.

    As my favorite bibliotherapist, have you already highlighted this book in one of your blogs? I know you’ve addressed the difficulties workplace bullying targets and victims have in trying to tell their stories, do you think this book would help?

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