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Writing the Truth, Telling our Stories

Image: Jacob Haddon via Flickr
Image: Jacob Haddon via Flickr

In an age of political correctness, is it possible to really write the truth? Is it possible for writers to really write what they actually think without fear of being politically incorrect? These questions have become central to my thinking as I try to evolve new ways to interrogate the nature of human existence. In a changing world that seems to be defined by intolerance, reckless violence, fear, prejudice, public display of anger and frustrations, how can we tell each other the truth?

As a writer I have come to a crossroads. All I want to do is write about things as they appear to me and use stories to investigate the nature of our world. I want to examine how society is reshaping itself in these changing times and gain a better understanding of human nature. I want to write exactly what I want, what I think about and what I deeply feel. Yet there is this inner doubting voice that says: publishers will not like it, magazines and readers will reject it, because it is not entertaining.

Consequently, I find myself in this zone of creative dissonance, afraid of my own ideas and hesitant to express my dreams. But then, deep within my mind is the belief that if I am to write something worthy of my calling as a writer, I must tell the truth, however politically incorrect it would sound. Because in all truth, political correctness has become the means by which we avoid dealing with the truth. In this case, can writers write about the Holocaust, genocide, domestic violence, elder and child abuse, indigenous injustice, racism, xenophobia, global-colonization and global warming, corruption, dysfunctional governments, refugees, immigration, exploitation of the poor and illiteracy amongst adults in developing countries? Can we really write the truth about these topics?

A few books that have forced me to rethink as a writer have been Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family, Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island and Michel Laub’s The Diary of the Fall. These writers have convinced me to be bold and unconventional in my thinking as a writer. I keep asking myself: Can the victims of history tell the truth from their point of view? Can we look through the long corridor of history to cast our unflinching gaze into the mirror of time and ask the questions historians have glossed over? How can we communicate about the future in transformational ways to engage readers in understanding the past, appreciate the present in order to envision a better future for humanity?

I want to write about things that would challenge readers; ask the big questions of life and about history, and examine our thoughts about ourselves and the way we are now living. If writers and artists are the unelected legislators of the human conscience, how can we engage with the world in order to encourage our readers to think in new ways? How can writers use the power of fiction to ask difficult questions and reframe the dialogue between contending groups?

Humanity has reached a new transition point where religion and reason are in conflict, politics and policy are constantly on contested grounds, and the idea of health and healing have become commercialized and more people die from heart break and depression. For some time, I convinced myself that writers have to master the politics of poetic form, learn to create elegant prose, use stylistic tropes and write thrilling stories that can become bestselling novels. But I have realized that it is not enough.

There are deep unanswered philosophical questions waiting to be discussed and new frontiers of human knowledge that deserve a wider hearing. Yet because we live in a consumer oriented world we tend to use fiction to mask the truth in order to sell books. Too often we seem to be afraid of facing the hard questions of life. We avoid dealing with the difficult issues that haunt our individual and collective memories or look at ourselves in the mirror to examine our prejudices, bias, phobias and fears. One thing I know is that, regardless of the traumas of history or the personal truths about our lives, nothing is impossible if we have the courage to tell the truth as individuals, communities and nations. Because, despite all the pain, the agonies and hurts we experience, the power of our divinity as humans is in our ability to forgive and forge ahead, and create new futures, different from the past.

Writers and readers must participate in the theatre of truth telling. Great truths, inspirational works of art, amazing books and musical masterpieces are composed and created from the pain of struggle, from honest dialogue and the hard thinking in which we engage to know the truth about who we are. If we are able to challenge our social, cultural and gender assumptions, we can be able to find the deeper truths by which to create a better vision for the future. Let me therefore write, fearlessly, confidently and unflinching in my quest for truth as my way to create an impact as a writer. Albert Camus once wrote in his notebooks, “If you want to be a philosopher, write novels.” Let us use literature and fiction to speak the language of our future, instead of reenacting the narratives of our fears.


Image: Jacob Haddon via Flickr

Kabu Okai-Davies
Kabu Okai-Davies
Kabu Okai-Davies is an African-Australian playwright, novelist and poet from Ghana. He is the author of Long Road to Africa, Curfew’s Children and Evidence of Nostalgia and Other Stories. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing - UC. He is currently a Visiting Fellow in Writing - School of Arts and Humanities at ANU and the 2015 Alumni Award Winner for Excellence, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra. (Editor: Dr. Okai-Davies passed away on February 17, 2017, after a battle with cancer. He was a good friend of


  1. This is outstanding and very emboldening. I wanted to quote a part of the work I love so much and drop it here, but it would mean my quoting the whole work. This piece should be a chapter in every writer’s bible… especially those who shrink when it comes to truth telling, and those who follow the herd instinct in the drive of getting creative. I love this work. It matters. Thank you.

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