March 19, 2011

Shane Stevens Saturday: The Crime Writer as Political Activist

On December 3, 1970, The New York Review of Books ran a letter from Shane Stevens in response to an article called "The Dark Night of the Soul." The article was about the Berrigans. The names probably mean nothing to you, but back then Daniel and his brother Phillip were fairly well known. The Berrigans were poets, political activists and priests. They served several terms in jail for their Vietnam protests, helped with the release of the first wave of POWs, napalmed draft records, and spent time on the FBI's Most Wanted.

In Stevens' letter, he addresses the fact that serving time in a federal prison prevents the Berrigans from publishing anything they write during their sentence. Shane closes his letter, "Because so many of us writers today face the possibility of federal imprisonment for exercising our constitutional rights, it becomes mandatory that we have the regulation changed. Father Berrigan is merely the latest to fall victim to this inhuman bit of indecency. There have been many others. There will be many more."

Dashiell Hammett
What's happened to our writers? Especially our crime writers? We owe our hard boiled/noir tradition to Dashiel Hammett, a leftist who willing served jail time for his beliefs. Crime writing should be boldly confronting all the inequalities under which crime itself thrives. Are we shirking our responsibilities? Where is our Writers and Editors War Tax Protest Pledge?
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