By Alexandra Constable, Hayley Cadel, Mary Karayel and Yashika M.
Over the past few years, social activism has become more and more integrated into our daily lives. With movements like Black Lives Matter, political changes such as abortion rights in the United States, and the ever-pressing issue of climate change, the role of the individual is as important as ever. With ongoing issues in the world, we predict uncertainty and a lack of control are going to result in readers looking for books on how they can make a difference as an individual. Trends in the publishing industry have noticeably corresponded with these cultural shifts: readers are turning to a number of non-fiction books such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi as useful ways to educate themselves on how to be an active force in progressive change. Similarly, the fast emerging trend of “cli-fi” (climate fiction) is educating its readers on the dangers of climate change through cautionary imaginings. In this article, we explore a few topics currently on the rise in the publishing industry that are contributing to the growing canon of social activist literature.
As climate change becomes an increasing topic of concern and anxiety, authors have explored their concerns for the future through the genre of climate fiction. Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under the Sun (2021), for example, is set in an apocalyptic California that has become uninhabitable as a result of climate change. The novel was shortlisted for The Joyce Carol Oates Price and offers an urgent and compelling depiction of a near future without environmental change. There has also been a noticeable rise in the republication of older texts that tackle the issues of climate change. Margaret Atwood’s much loved The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), for example, imagines a civilization forced into drastic and atrocious action after a chemical spill leaves fertility rates plummeting below the point of no return.
Feminism is also a cause encompassed by this trend for social activism which stems from the individual. This is particularly pertinent following the overturning of the Roe vs. Wade ruling in the US which gave women access to safe abortions. As a decision which disproportionately affects the vulnerable, it may lead to readers wishing to learn what they can do. A good example is the author of Unbound (2022), Tarana Burke, who discusses the sexual assault which led to her founding the #MeToo movement. In sharing her own story, Burke aims to help others on their journey but also encourages readers to be leaders. Interestingly, in both cases, these are not just ideas found in books, but movements with hashtags happening online, helping the individual become part of the collective.
Social activism in literature about political issues such as the cost of living crisis is also on the rise. Anxieties about the cost of living across the UK are a huge talking point in politics at the moment and authors are using their literature to reflect on the issue, educate their readers and hope to offer solutions for everyday people. Jack Monroe’s cookbooks such as Cooking on a Bootstrap and Tin Can Cook prove this commitment to helping people find affordable recipes for when they're struggling to make ends meet. This year Profile Books released Tenants, by housing rights campaigner and journalist, Vicky Spratt. Tenants looks at how the safety net of social housing is broken, leaving ordinary people susceptible to bad landlords and poor private housing. It is a stark read but so important, especially for young people to educate themselves on the housing crisis contributing to the bigger issue of cost of living with which we will all be faced.
So, while the baton of responsibility regarding social activism is beheld by both the reader and the audience of today, a few recommendations by authors with reference to the ongoing political, social and climatic debacles of the world would definitely go a long way. The recent release, Badass Feminist Politics, a collection of contributions by a number of renowned authors, highlights the unfortunate existence of dissent in 2022 and its intricate relation to political power as well as its potential to blind the common masses from the sad realities. It brings forth ideas of global inclusivity, representation struggles, various outlooks and steps taken to eradicate the same. Some others like Finding Me by Viola Davis, Reputation by Sarah Vaughan, The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama are anticipated to be game-changing literary gems. Although a dynamic category of literature, books about social activism have become an underlying norm of society and authors as well as publishing presses need to be encouraged to propagate these more. They not only serve the purpose of creating awareness but also help the readers find their own voices when it comes to matters of concern impacting individuals and social structures.