Public Lives/Private Lives

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

On today's program, we'll hear from three great writers, participants in PEN World Voices: Michael Ondaatje, Annie Proulx, and Uzodinma Iweala.

For an hour, a studio in our New York bureau will be transformed into a new Algonquin Round Table. (Surely someone at The Bryant Park Project can make a mean martini.)

The theme of this year's festival is "Public Lives/Private Lives."

How do we draw a line between our private and public selves? When must we tell private stories for the public good? Do we need to redefine the meaning of public and private in the 21st century?

We'll put those questions to our three guests, but we want you to answer them too. Especially if you're a writer, professional or amateur. Should authors tell private stories, if it is for the public good?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

If one is honestly portraying their own private viewpoint or interpretation of their own life then all is fair game. The trouble that folks have with being "outed," for lack of a better word, is they have difficulty understanding that an author has her/his own perspective and interpretation. There is no such thing as absolute truth in stories that involve other family members, close friends, or enemies for that matter. The truth lay deep within the story and one should be resigned to the thought that they only know part of the story. How different would the scriptures of the Bible be if Noah, Moses, David or Jesus even, told their own stories?

Sent by Wadell Muhammad | 2:16 PM | 5-1-2008

I believe every writer struggles with this difficult question because we have to weigh the hurt our disclosures may cause those included in our writing and the compelling reason, if any to include them. I just finished my MFA in creative nonfiction and when choosing the personal essays for my thesis I decided against including one that touched upon a relative's youthful indiscretions. That person may never read what I wrote, but I just didn't feel good about telling her story publicly for she is not the same person she was when I knew her years ago. I don't believe in fictionalizing personal history though I believe in using fictional techniques to move the narrative forward.

Sent by Shehla (pronounced like Shella more or less and not Sheila) Anjum, | 2:20 PM | 5-1-2008

I am interested in listening to the second hour of the program, but my local station (WHYY) does not carry it. Can i get it live through the internet somehow, or can you tell me a station that carries the second hour?
Many thanks.

Sent by Jessica Nichols | 2:31 PM | 5-1-2008

Wow. Private stories for the public good. That will definitely require some thought and I'm interested to hear how the round table discussion goes. Meanwhile I am enjoying my private romance life depicted in a personalized novel from Book By You. My husband bought it for me as a break from all my "heavy" he puts it! It's fun and quirky and sweet. It makes a nice break from all the heaviness we see so much of today. Thank you. - Mrs. Tera Alexander

Sent by Tera Alexander | 3:40 PM | 5-1-2008