Margaret Atwood, Don Winslow and John Grisham bring stories - and politics - to Santa Fe Literary Festival

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Don Winslow speaking at Santa Fe Literary Festival  (The Independent )
Don Winslow speaking at Santa Fe Literary Festival (The Independent )

Bestselling crime author Don Winslow kicked off the first full day of the Santa Fe Literary Festival by confirming that he intends to retire from novel writing. Taking to the event’s main stage early on Saturday morning, he said that he will from now on be focusing on political activism, specifically fighting Donald Trump and the former President’s associates.

Although Winslow said he was not a “political person”, he has felt moved to become active as a campaigner since the events at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, “We don’t get to choose our time,” Winslow told The Independent. “We just don’t, no more than someone living quite peacefully in Ukraine up until a few months ago gets to choose, not that I’m comparing myself to them.”

Winslow set the tone for a day which featured both expert storytellers and a strong running theme of urgent political activism. He was followed on the festival’s main stage by The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood, who spoke about the leaked Supreme Court memo that suggested the US could imminently overturn Roe v Wade. She was unimpressed with justices who defend such judgments by self-identifying as Constitutional orginalists.“If you take the original Constitution [as it is and apply it], a lot of people are going to lose their rights, including all women,” she said, as well as “people who don’t own property”.

Later in the day, Emily St. John Mandel spoke about her 2014 book Station Eleven, which has been widely described as prophetic for its description of characters grappling with a world ravaged by a deadly flu pandemic. She said that she never thought of her most famous novel as a “pandemic book”. Instead, she explained, she wanted to write about a “post-technological society”, and “to have a post-technological society, you have to end the world.”

With the literary festival playing out against the backdrop of several large wildfires burning in New Mexico, including the largest in state history, author and conservationist William deBuys and Roshi Joan Halifax, social activist and Buddhist teacher, took part in an inspiring panel on the difficult topic of: “Where Do We Go From Here?”. DeBuys, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of ten books including The Trail To Kanjiroba, addressed the imbalance of how communities, like those he visited in the Upper Dolpo region of Nepal, were suffering frontline impacts of the climate crisis but had done little to create the emissions that have caused it. “I think one of the few reasonable responses is simply to allow that knowledge to help you continue to look for the structural violence in the world you inhabit, and to work to change it and to be self conscious in your positioning with that structural violence and try not to participate in it,” he said. “You can’t get out of it completely, it’s really how the world works. But it’s something that we can all strive to change."

The day was brought to a close by legal thriller author John Grisham, who entertained the audience with stories of lawyers gone bad while also keeping up the day’s political edge by discussing his work with The Innocence Project. Speaking of efforts to overturn the many miscarriages of justice that happen within the American legal system, Grisham pointed out: “It’s pretty easy to send an innocent person to prison, but it’s virtually impossible to get one out.”

The festival is set to continue on Sunday with appearances from Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin, Lost Children Archive author Valeria Luiselli and US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.

The Independent, as the event’s international media partner, is providing coverage across each day of the festival with exclusive interviews with some of the headline authors. For more on the festival visit our Santa Fe Literary Festival section or visit the festival’s website.