Where to Find and Why We Need Activist Protagonists in Fiction
By, Jenni Moody, Writer and Co-organizer of Huntsville Vegans
Science fiction author Minister Faust recently called online for examples of fiction that have activists or community organizers as the protagonist. While his own novels, War &Mir and Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, both include activists, most responders to the call were able to provide few examples of additional activist characters.
A recent study by psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano tested the effect of literary fiction on a reader’s ability for empathy with another human. The study showed that interacting with complex characters in fiction improved the reader’s ability to determine emotion in another person. Kidd states “fiction is not just a simulator of a social experience, it is a social experience.” Can fiction help grow future activists and change public perception of activism? Can fiction create empathy in the general public and help activists achieve their goals? Where can we find examples of novels and short stories with activist protagonists?
One such novel is Karen Joy Fowler’s Pen/Faulkner Award-winning We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which chronicles two siblings’ journeys towards different forms of animal rights activism after their sister is taken away and placed in a lab. Fowler’s portrayal of both direct action and educational outreach are sympathetic. She creates complex characters driven by their childhood experience of having a chimpanzee as an equal member of their family and her sudden removal and imprisonment in a laboratory.
By exploring this and other works with activist protagonists, as well as studies on fiction-created empathy, I hope to provide a framework of resources and a call to action for fellow writers.
Jenni Moody is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her stories have been published in Booth, SpringGun, and Mason’s Road. She is currently at work on a novel set in Alaska with two ravens as main characters. She is interested in literature that explores animal desires and intelligence.