Adjei-Brenyah joined fellow US writer Meg Wolitzer and the UK’s Max Porter on Tuesday night to launch the 2019 Sydney Writers’ Festival and its six-day program exploring the theme of the lies we tell ourselves and the complicity of fiction.
Wolitzer recalled the time as a teenager she decided to reinvent herself and bought a copy of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain to summer camp and tucked it under her arm having never read a word. She was found out. Lies are told in the act of «becoming», or «trying on a persona».
The pretence of inhabiting someone’s life is the very foundation stone of a novel, says Wolitzer, the New York Times bestselling author of The Female Persuasion, but through that also an «instrument of illumination».
Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black, a fierce dystopian collection of short stories that critiques mass consumerism and cultural unrest, likes to think that fiction writers use lies to expose truths.
More pervasive is the institutional «lies» within American academia and the editorial boards of American publishers, which are mainly white, says Adjei-Brenyah. Reform is needed so that these institutions become more diverse and inclusive.
For Porter, author of the critically acclaimed fabulist tale, Lanny, we all exist in «personal microclimates of falsehood», but the English political class has its own sorry standards and the public and media too often excuse them.
«By calling politicians mad or corrupt or evil we other them,» he tells The Sydney Morning Herald. «We project them into their own fantasy mould framework and [don’t] hold them accountable to the [same] rules that we are.»
Brexit and the idea of an easy-made, free trade deal with Europe was a «straightforward con», Porter says. «You could connect it to Trump’s America, you could connect it to the rise of populism all around the world. There are promises being made to people that they are going to punish the elite when they are an elite. Powerful people will always exploit and manipulate the masses.»
But the world literally has no time for lies given the environmental crisis. «There is no politics on a dying planet,» Porter says. «Left or right doesn’t exist — like you can keep on lying to me about your expenses as much as you like but the point is we are all naked babies on a dying planet.
«I’ve been very inspired in that regard by the youth climate strike movement and the extinction rebellion movement. These are people who are saying normal no longer applies. We all have to do something.»
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer at The Sydney Morning Herald