Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

I, He… We?


You + Me = We

We writers gravitate towards a few particular points of view: we love the first person singular, the ultra-personal “I”; we adore the third-person limited and its inside-outside-blurring stance; we even use the omniscient and look down on our characters as if we were gods.  Now and then, we’ll try the second person to switch it up—we’ve all read Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help and thought about it, haven’t we?

But what about the first person plural?  Why haven’t we, as writers, embraced this viewpoint and its potential?  A few of us—Jeffrey Eugenides, Steven Millhauser—have tackled it, but most of us just shrug our shoulders and turn to our old tried-and-trues.

First Person Plural, in Harlem, is looking to change all that with a series of readings, each of which contains pieces written in (yup) the first person plural. Why? Their site offers us several reasons, starting with:

“We” in literature is strange, it makes a claim that might make us uncomfortable: who is this “we,” how can a plural voice speak, think, or act? In some contexts the implications of “we” might be cultural or political, in others, they might be spookier, more existential. “We” is the limbic brain and the neighborhood, the family tree and the Gallup poll. “We” could be the voice of the future, the populated past, or the unparsed present. “We” seems impossible, like it’s just a second away from disappearing into an “I” or a “they.” And impossible seems like a good place to start.

Color us intrigued. Their next event is April 23.


Further Reading:
Actually, more writers have tried the first person plural than you’d think:

  • Ali Smith explores many variations on the first person (and the second person, and the third) in her collection The First Person
  • In the Atlantic, Paul Bloom explores the idea that each of us has multiple selves vying for control of the body and mind they inhabit.
  • And in this FWR interview, Allan Gurganus argues for a mental third-person-plural state: that ALL writers should wait to write until they have “some vision that includes not just you as first person singular, but “we.” That’s the movement of human life—from the singular to the plural.”

Join the Discussion

  • Charlotte Boulay

    Celeste, don’t you love Stuart Dybek’s short story “We Didn’t”? I do.

  • Celeste

    I do–though an “I” and a “you” do rise out of that “we,” if I remember right. Actually, I’m a total sucker for the first-person plural. Some of my other favorites: Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris; The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides; “The Sisterhood of Night,” by Steven Millhauser; and “Trespassing” by my friend (and friend of FWR!) Marissa Perry. And there must be others I’m forgetting!

Literary Partners