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Scott Lax Blog

Lillian Hellman and the Courage Writers Must Have

I'm nearly finished with Lillian Hellman's memoir, SCOUNDREL TIME. Hellman and her life-companion, Dashiell Hammet (if you don't know these authors, think about looking them up; they are part of great 20th Century literature), stood up to the destructive madness of the McCarthy Communist witch-hunts that peaked during my birth year of 1952.

Hellman was simply unable to lie or not stand up for her beliefs. While she was not a Communist, she wouldn't name names, and she, and her lover Dash, suffered terribly for it. (He was jailed, this great author, and they were both wiped out financially.)

Whatever your beliefs as a serious, literary writer - whether you admire Ayn Rand and her brand of social Darwinism, or democratic socialism - as a writer, your job is to tell the truth as you see it. Not as a rant; not in a tweet, not merely glibly or, worse, in a way that hides what you think for fear of retribution from your clients or readers. But in a measured, thoughtful, powerful way. Appeal to your readers' better angels. Not to their fears and prejudices. Avoid trivialities about daily life to which you give no context or meaning.

If you want to be a salesperson or marketing guru, don't take this advice. You owe the public nothing. But this is a blog for real writers, not those who use language purely for self-promotion or social networking contacts. If you want to be a writer, read about those who have sacrificed and been true to themselves, like Lillian Hellman. (Or Ayn Rand; while I do not admire her views, I do admire that she put her beliefs out there and wrote about them. That she caved in - and badly - to the McCarthy lunatics is a sad commentary about her, however.)

We need serious writers and serious readers. Both are an endangered species.  Read More