Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

targeted for elimination



I wrote a novel based on eugenics, but my agent didn’t like it. Once she didn’t like it, I found that I didn’t either. I thought the backstory was more interesting than the front story. I thought the whole section that takes place when the protagonist lives with a male prostitute in New York City was just an excuse for me to write about when I lived with a male prostitute in New York City. I used to talk about this when I talked to groups, not the prostitute part but the part about including something irrelevant to our stories just because we feel like writing about it. I put the manuscript in a box and dismissed it.

The story idea came from a family known as the Ishmaels who are said to have descended from a group made up of displaced Indians, ex-slaves and poor whites, a family (a tribe) who rejected monogamy, property rights, Christianity and capitalism. According to this particular narrative, they were able to maintain their identity for centuries, until finally the group was declared undesirable and targeted for elimination by eugenicists. This is the absolutely true part of the story—the part about the Ishmaels being targeted for elimination.

I spent several years researching and several years writing.

A few days ago, I read that old story again and wondered at my willingness to dismiss my own work. It’s good -even the New York City part, even the prostitute part- but back then I didn’t understand exactly why I wrote the story the way I did. I wrote it before I was conscious of what I was doing, before I could understand or speak clearly about my work. I wrote it before I thought too much about writing. When I had the words for the story but not the words to talk about it.



Categories: aging, art, belief, class, Fascism, literary agents, politics, poverty, publishing, racism, writing

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4 replies

  1. The brain exercise worked. I love your writing and concept sharing.

  2. I was looking forward to reading this book when you were writing it. Resurrect it and find another way to share it/distribute it. I find how excited I am when people read my thesis because it was a lot of work and it makes me feel it was worth it when other people to read it.

    • I’m reading a book you might be interested in, “Inventing America’s ‘Worst Family:’ Eugenics, Islam and the Fall and Rise of the Tribe of Ishmael by Nathaniel Deutsch. He and I emailed back when we were both writing our books. A look at the demonization of the poor and also the American Eugenics Movement, told through the story of one family. Stranger than fiction.

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