NOTFew authors come to a literary festival to explain why they plan to never write again, but best-selling novelist Don Winslow does just that. On a Saturday afternoon in Santa Fe, the author of more than 20 books, including The border, the savages and his last, City on fire — calmly explains to an audience why he decided to put the pen down.
“Our present time is extremely perilous,” he said, “and we cannot choose the time in which we live. I’m not a politician…but now I think it’s time to put my resources elsewhere. ” When he says “elsewhere”, Winslow means towards activism. “We can no longer bring spoons to a knife fight” when far-right politicians and judges work to take away Americans’ rights, he says.
Winslow isn’t afraid to bring up the specific issue looming over all cultural discourse these days: abortion. Three weeks before the opening of the literary festival, a leaked memo from the Supreme Court showed the justices planned to strike down landmark abortion legislation Roe v. Wade. Two weeks later, another leaked memo — this time from the Department of Homeland Security and published by Axios — said the US government was bracing for an outbreak of politically motivated violence after the 1973 ruling, which enshrined constitutional protections for women seeking an abortion, is overturned. The fact that preparations are underway for the end of abortion rights in the United States is alarming to many. And already state governors, emboldened by promises of a post-Roe future, are pushing through legislation that would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago: Most notably, Oklahoma lawmakers passed the bill on toughest in US history on May 20, banning all abortions except for rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother. This makes Oklahoma the “first state in the nation to completely ban abortion — even though Roe is still standing,” Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said in a statement upon the news.
“I’m very aware that people like Kamala Harris and other women are perfectly capable of standing up for themselves,” Winslow said onstage in New Mexico. “They’re smarter than me, they’re tougher than me…I just want them to know they don’t have to do it alone.” I want other men to say – I’m talking about men like me, white people – that they’re going to fight. Not in a parochial, paternalistic way, but we will stand with them and we will fight.
Winslow’s speech is a welcome addition to the conversation, which too often features only women. And while the bravery of women speaking out about reproductive rights is undeniable, it’s also true that little can be accomplished if men aren’t willing to fight alongside us.
Margaret Atwood fans praise author’s comments on Roe vs Wade
A featured speaker at the festival, Margaret Atwood, was thanked by Buddhist activist Roshi Joan Halifax for “making this issue so visible”. And it’s fair to say that few people have done more to keep women’s rights high in the public consciousness than Atwood, whose dystopian novels The Handmaid’s Tale and The Wills deals directly with a world where forced pregnancies are commonplace, and which still writes about thirty political articles a year for various publications. Atwood is candid when talking about what could happen if Roe v Wade were called off. If abortion is a criminal offence, “you can accuse people of having abortions,” she says, before emulating the would-be blackmailer: “You got one, and now where’s my $10,000 ?”
Atwood never minces his words. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a reward for MeToo,” she said during her speech at the first Santa Fe Literary Festival. A week earlier, she posted excerpts from an essay by her next collection, burning questions, in which she compares women who do not have access to abortion to slaves or recalcitrant conscripts. “Women who cannot decide for themselves whether or not to have babies are enslaved because the state claims ownership of their bodies and the right to dictate what their body should be used for,” says the extract. “…force childbirth if you wish, but at least call this execution what it is. This is slavery: the claim to own and control the body of another, and to profit from that claim.
Atwood adds in his essay that: “Nobody likes abortion, even if it is safe and legal. It’s not what any woman would choose for a happy Saturday night. But neither does anyone like women who bleed to death on the bathroom floor from illegal abortions. In a few short sentences, she deftly deconstructs the central vanity of the “pro-life” cause, a cause that doesn’t quite protect the lives of innocent little babies so much as condemns hundreds of desperate women to a painful, underground death. And on the Saturday afternoon of the literary festival, Atwood also lays bare the hypocrisy of Supreme Court justices who say they simply want to stick to the Constitution’s original intentions: “If you take the original Constitution [as it is and apply it]many people will lose their rights, including all women… and all those who do not own property.
The “Roe” story of the Roe v Wade legislation is fascinating in itself, a true example of America’s complicated relationship with women’s liberties. Norma McCorvey was given the pseudonym Jane Roe when she took her case to the Supreme Court, arguing that states’ abortion bans were unconstitutional. She won the case too late to abort her own pregnancy and carried a child to term who was eventually adopted. In a bizarre twist, she then went public that she was “pro-life” years after the ruling and spent years on the pro-life circuit talking about her supposed regrets for helping legalize the proceedings.
In another Atwoodian or perhaps Winslowian twist, McCorvey then made a “deathbed confession” on camera in 2020 to a documentary filmmaker who had gone to film her final months while living with an illness in the last phase. McCorvey said she received money she couldn’t refuse from the anti-abortion movement and was simply told to show up to events and repeat a few well-worn lines about her regrets, saying, “I took their money and they kicked me out on camera and told me what to say, and that’s what I’d say.
“Roe’s” final confession shows the anti-abortion movement for what it is: seedy, controlling and immoral. If the newly conservative Supreme Court reverses its decision in 2022, honoring its final words will be more important than ever. Fortunately, a number of public figures are ready to intervene.
“I’ve never seen a bully approach two people standing side by side, let alone 20, or 200, or 2,000, or 200 million,” Winslow says. “And we have those numbers, and we should use them.”
The Independent, as the event’s international media partner, provides coverage of each day of the festival with exclusive interviews with some of the key writers. To learn more about the festival, visit our Santa Fe Literary Festival Chapter or visit the the festival website.