This week’s video shows how Paul Volponi’s unflinching honesty in Rikers High created a strong piece of fiction.
Video Transcription: Writers often have to address issues that make them uncomfortable. Whether it’s violence, questions of morality, or thematic elements, the nature of conflict inherent to fiction means that authors are often forced to write about hard subjects. It can sometimes be tempting to write our way around these issues, to whitewash or soft-soap the ugly facts, in order to spare both ourselves and our readers. But what we have to realize is that doing so is a fast track to weak and forgettable fiction.
With the undeniably tough subject of juvenile detention, and all it entails, at the center of his young adult novel Rikers High, Paul Volponi gives us an unflinching example of how honesty, verisimilitude, to stare down the unsavory details of life and use them to produce a powerful and unforgettable piece of fiction. Every page of Rikers High resonates with the truth. As a man who spent several years teaching high school at Rikers Island, New York’s main jail complex, Volponi knows his subject matter firsthand, and he’s not afraid to lay it all out for the world to see.
Had Volponi chosen to do otherwise—had he decided he didn’t want to write about all the horrific happenings inside a youth prison, or had he decided he didn’t want to face the possibly negative responses of a reading public that wasn’t ready for the hard, cold truth—he would have gutted his story’s impact and resilience. If fiction is to have any significance beyond mere entertainment value, it must be willing to face the truth and share the truth, no matter how ugly, how beautiful, how painful, or how liberating. Look through your latest story and see if you can find any areas that make you uncomfortable. Face them bravely and lay the truth out for all the world to see. Your readers will remember.
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Story by K.M. Weiland