“All stories are valid,” writes Matthew Neill Null in his essay “No One is Writing the Real West Virginia: Why Rural Lives and Literature are in Crisis.” “But not all stories are marketable.” We rob ourselves of better treasures when we write only for the market, when we work only for the rewards of remuneration. This may have been Marx’s most profound insight, what he called alienation. We are not ourselves when pay becomes our only motivation.
Perhaps more to the point, writing for pay exposes the vulnerabilities of mercenary wordsmiths; they live a precarious existence. Markets change and worlds disappear. Null asks, “Faulkner, Welty, James Welch, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, John Ehle—would they even be published today? Or, more pointedly, would they have even lived and come of age in those forgotten, country places? Probably not. They were all creations of worlds that, due to the vicissitudes of capitalism, no longer exist.” The wisdom of those places, the prophetic perspectives of the people who inhabited them, become lost to us.
But old wisdoms can still guide us, even as new perspectives and new prophecies crowd the marketplace. Writers, all creative people, can be the prophetic voices of worlds they stand outside of. As Null concludes, “Estrangement creates writers.” Our distance from the demands of the marketplace alleviates our alienation and offers clarity on worlds we’ve not begun to understand. We write, we draw, we sing, we create to be alive and to keep others alive as well. ♨