Junot Diaz on Obama’s Role as Storyteller-in-Chief


While we wait for a new piece of fiction from

author Junot Diaz, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with this New Yorker essay on the importance of storytelling in politics/his personal reflections on the first year of the Obama presidency. Citing Tolkien’s One Ring, Diaz explains his belief that “if a President is to have any success, if his policies are going to gain any kind of traction among the electorate, he first has to tell us a story.” The problem that we’re currently dealing with? Even though he’s a published author, since taking office Obama has told no story at all.

I heard him talk healthcare to death but while he was elaborating ideas his opponents were telling stories. Sure they were bad ones, full of distortions and outright lies, but at least they were talking to the American people in the correct idiom: that of narrative. The President gave us a raft of information about why healthcare would be a swell idea; the Republicans gave us death panels. Ideas are wonderful things, but unless they’re couched in a good story they can do nothing.

Diaz points to the results of Tuesday’s Massachusetts senate race as just one of the consequences of a narrative-free presidency, and suggests that in the end — when you’re going up against an opposition with juicy tales of death panels and tea parties — it will prove its death-knell: “If I were him, I’d have hired fewer Ivy League policy wonks and brought in a couple of storytellers.”

That’s an interesting idea. Off the top of our head, we’d love to see writers like George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Richard Price, Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters, and Joshua Ferris play the part political spin doctors — and yes, we realize that they’re not all American novelists. Who would you nominate?

Read the full piece over at the New Yorker .