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New York City Manhattan downtown skyline at night from Liberty Park with light beams in memory of September 11 viewed from New Jersey waterfront.| ©Songquan Deng / Shutterstock
New York City Manhattan downtown skyline at night from Liberty Park with light beams in memory of September 11 viewed from New Jersey waterfront.| ©Songquan Deng / Shutterstock

How 15 Literary Figures Reacted to 9/11

Picture of Culture Trip
Updated: 6 October 2016
The unforgettable tragedy of 9/11 still feels like a fresh memory. It changed our world in greater terms than any of the new millennia’s initial, optimistic promises, ushering in an era of terrorism from the Middle East and aggression and racism from the West. 15 years later, Muslims have gained wider acceptance and inclusion in Western culture, even as Islamic extremism remains a scourge. London has elected its first-ever Muslim mayor; a bigoted presidential candidate tweets anti-Islamic sentiments. We have come a long way and still, it seems, have much further to go. But on that day, as smoke billowed from the twin towers of the World Trade Center, as a facade of the Pentagon gaped open, and as a farm field burned with the remains of a plane, it wasn’t anger but anguish that was on the minds of its witnesses. On that day alone, when the actions of a handful of men impacted the entire world, people everywhere came together to grieve and try to make sense of what had happened, including many writers and poets.

To commemorate the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we gathered the words of 15 writers who have memorialized the event from then till now.

Toni Morrison (from “The Dead of September 11“)
“Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would like to speak directly to the dead — the September dead. Those children of ancestors born in every continent on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…; born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles, wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes, feathers and cloths to cover their hair. To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say — no words stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you have become.”

Zadie Smith (from “Monsters“)
“I grew up with girls who wore the head scarf, a fact that seemed no more remarkable to me at the time than Jewish boys wearing yarmulkes or Hindu kids with bindis on their foreheads. Different world. What enabled it? […] The end of the world for nearly three thousand innocent people. The beginning of a different sort of world for the rest of us. From the epicenter in Manhattan, shock waves rippled across Europe. In North West London, a small but significant change: the stereotype of the Muslim boy was transformed. From quiet, sexless, studious child — sitting in the back of class and destined for an engineering degree — to Public Enemy No. 1.”

Orhan Pamuk (from “Listen to the Damned“)
“As I walked the streets of Istanbul after watching the unbelievable images of the twin towers in New York blazing and collapsing, I met one of my neighbours. “Sir, have you seen, they have bombed America,” he said, and added fiercely, “They did the right thing.” This angry old man, who is not religious, who struggles to make a living by doing minor repair jobs and gardening, who dr