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Let's talk about great literature...

I have read hundreds of truly great books in my twenty years as an avid reader. Maybe thousands. Very few have managed to inspire me on an intimate level. And I say that as a Millennial who grew up as authors like Rowling, Meyers and Paolini were reimagining what literature could be for the young people of the world. Yes, yes, most of those names make me gag now as well, but there is no denying that their work helped to shape my generation. Heck, helped to shape the way literature has been written and consumed since. Those books met a need in my generation that nothing else was able to. However, with as much as they gave us, they stole something even more precious. While what we were offered was an escape, what we were actually given was a trade, where in order to pick up the fantasy of hope, we had to lay down our own skin, culture and identity. We had to envision ourselves as something that we weren't so that we could pick up a freedom we couldn't actually access.

In the decade or so since I set those stories aside, I have read about other schools of magic and followed more relevant vampire hunters as they lost themselves in the eyes of their own prey/hunters. I have soared the open sky with new and fresh dragon riders and watched countless evils try to compare to the faceless, nameless evils of my childhood. And while many writers and many stories have captured my imagination over the years just as completely as those authors did, most of them failed to touch anything real within me. And I'm going to tell you why.

The greatest stories are not built on the tension between heroes and their central foe, but in the space that is opened for the chorus of many different voices working together and pushing off of one another to build something that is beyond what the author could have ever dreamed up without them. The dichotomy of good and evil is not where writers like Octavia Butler and Maya Angelou and C.S. Lewis found the words to shape the world. It was in their willingness to explore voices that the world had not yet found time to hear. The voices of the underprivileged and underrepresented. Voices that weren't afraid to doubt settled reality or to ask questions that have no real answers. Voices that didn't represent their readers, but the people their readers had failed to see. Voices that weren't just promising to satisfy their dreams, but challenging them to dream better.

The "greats" from my generation have largely failed to accomplish that same magic. Books like Harry Potter and Twilight scratched at a generation's itch to matter but did so by giving the most privileged and represented among us permission to see themselves as the forgotten and unheard. They spoke to the children of the powerful and convinced them that their already promised power was proof that they were heroes. Destiny replaced the tension that exists in exploring actual brokenness. Instead of challenging the privileged to witness the brokenness of the underprivileged around them, they gave them permission to tape their faces over ours and to pretend like our forgotten voices were their own.

Books like To Kill A Mockingbird and Uncle Tom's Cabin didn't create change because they caught the attention of the world through fanciful storytelling and well-articulated writing. No, they created change because they were a vehicle that transported selectively deaf ears closer to the voices they were determined to never listen to.

The world needs writers like that again. Writers who refuse to offer their readers the benefit of the doubt. Writers who do not write to satisfy their reader's image of themselves, but to force them to see a world that exists beyond them. Writers who amplify the voices that the world has all but extinguished. That is what the world needs.

Sadly, the world does not require this level of writing from you. But I hope that you will.

Michael LaBorn

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