So why does literature matter?

Contributed by: Vincent Otterbeck
Themes: YoungWriter, whyLiteratureMatters
Categories: Comment

Until thriller-writer Sanjida Kay (also known as Sanjida O’Connell) arrived as Writer in Residence at Fairfield High School in Bristol, I hated writing. My only experience of it was in GCSE English classes, and I found them deadly boring and uninspired. But still, just to give writing another chance, I joined a group of 10-12 led by Sanjida after school through the First Story Programme. It was absolutely brilliant. Suddenly writing was interesting and full of possibility. Sanjida encouraged us to write imaginative stories, and letters to our future selves. She introduced us to strange and exciting poetry like ‘The man of double deed’ (author anonymous), and short stories such as one narrated by a man who moved his family into a crocodile’s stomach. Sanjida also showed us how to use the structure of other people’s work as a springboard to our own, which opened up a whole realm of new possibilities. When others in the group read out their work, I’d see sides of them that were completely unexpected. The quieter people were, the more I was blown away by their writing, which was often deep, powerful and insightful. It gave me so much respect for them. If somebody asked me why literature matters, I’d say that it leads you right inside other people’s lives and stories. And when you need an escape, that’s what it offers: it gives you so many places to go to. Recently I’ve been reading The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez, a true story set in Afghanistan, and it’s given me such great insights into the country and the war. It’s made me feel close to people and events that happened miles away. Back at home, I have six siblings, and I love reading what they’re reading: it makes me feel closer to them. I also like to read books that my mum read as a kid because it makes me feel like I’ve shared that experience with her. So why does literature matter? Because it’s incredible, invaluable and fun.