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Too Soon to Write About 9/11?

One World Trade Center, under construction. June 2011.

In the years since the horrible events of September 11, several non-fiction books recounting the tragedy, like The 9/11 Commission Report, have been bestsellers. However, as the 10th anniversary looms near, a singular work of fiction that defines the era has failed to emerge. Novelist and playwright Norman Mailer advised a fellow writer to wait a decade before addressing the attacks in print because “it will take that long for you to make sense of it.” Was he right?

“The world has changed since 9/11 and our culture has changed but I haven’t yet seen the book or the movie or the poem or the song that captures the people we are now and helps us redefine who we are in this new post 9/11 world,” says journalist Lawrence Wright in an interview with Reuters.

Wright wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book focusing on the tragedy called The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Several other prominent authors such as Ian McEwan, John Updike and Martin Amis have also written about the events. While a number of these books have met with critical praise, sales have often been lackluster. Some writers take the disappointing sales as a sign that the American public is still too raw to absorb the subject matter.

“Were we ready to write about this? I don’t think anyone was ready to read about it,” explains Andre Dubus III, author of The Garden of Last Days. “As we get to the 10th anniversary, I have a hunch Norman Mailer was right. We are just at the cusp of being ready to look back with any degree of perspective, that we need emotionally, to see it more clearly.”

“We are not comfortable with who we are. We are still in a period of discovery. Certainly 9/11 was a shock and there was bound to be a lag before people were able to address it in a cogent way,” Wright concludes.

“In terms of post 9/11 artistic production, the escapist factor has far outweighed the enlightenment factor. And maybe it indicates a longing to retreat from the confrontation with the complexities of the new world that we find ourselves in.”

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