Draws and drawbacks of success for writers by Mohsin Hamid
In our glaringly unequal world, commercial success seems a panacea. It frees the infinitesimally few writers who achieve it to write: NYT
For writers in our thoroughly marketized global culture and economy, the draws of commercial success are clear. As Virginia Woolf wrote 85 years ago: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” circumstances likely “out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble.”
Her words apply to men today as well. Ours is a glaringly unequal world. Money and a room of one’s own are distant prospects for many young writers. Commercial success seems, therefore, a panacea. It frees the infinitesimally few writers who achieve it to write.
It can also serve as a validation. In Pakistan, when a stranger asks what I do and I say I am a writer of fiction, the most common response is an expression of respect (even, or perhaps especially, when the stranger is unfamiliar with my work). Writers in Pakistan — at least when they’re not being intimidated or killed — benefit from the value society has long placed on poets, who are considered spiritual, moral and emotional guides. Poetic traditions remain vitally important in places where few were historically able to read and write.