September 11 Stories


Whether you were in high school in Missouri or headed to work in Manhattan, chances are you remember exactly where you stood ten years ago on September 11. While some were directly affected by the events of 9/11 and others watched it on the news, there is no denying that the day changed everything: our national identity, our lives, and our fiction.

The Economist’s “How 9/11 Changed Fiction,” an essay that also functions as a 9/11 reading list, looks at the ways those events changed and challenged how we write. Perhaps it’s too soon to write about a tragedy that is still looming, perhaps it’s still too tangible for fiction, too difficult for characters to emerge from the shadows of the towers. R. B. writes, “9/11 is in a sense a bigger crisis than many novels can contain or capture: it’s a situation where truth is both bigger and stranger than fiction.”

For those of us who still have trouble believing those events ever took place, iO9 has a similar post on 9/11’s influence on science fiction. The post, originally published in 2008, points to a trend towards paranoia of terrorists and government surveillance in spec fiction, as well as to the rise of movies that seem to fetishize the destruction of Manhattan.

Today, McSweeney’s ran “An Open Letter to New Yorkers on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.” In the letter, Brian Calavan writes about being a high school student in California, still asleep in his bed when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. For years he’d felt removed from the tragedy, but now, after moving to New York, he suddenly feels troubled by the repercussions and finds himself questioning the authenticity of his own emotions.

Just as people still recall where they were when they learned JFK was shot, our first exposure to 9/11 (the news broadcasts, the phone calls) are still echoing in our memories. Whether you were in Manhattan or Montana, those events reached us all; The Millions has two insightful accounts about those circumstances.

At a recent screening of Ron Howard’s 9/11 documentary, Rebirth, writer Taylor Bruce was surprised to discover how connected he felt to the subjects of the film, who (he later learned) were in the audience with him. He was inspired to start a Tumblr feed called “Where I Was on 9/11” where stories can be shared anonymously and objectively. “No matter who you are today, whether you are a famous movie star or an eleventh grade soccer player, your story has real resonance,” Bruce says. “Everyone matters. I see this as a beautiful example of shared experience, even though a tragic one.”

And for those looking for another way to encounter and express testimonies, The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, HISTORY, and Broadcastr (founded by the creators of Electric Literature) have partnered to document, aggregate, and share your stories of 9/11. You can share your experiences while visiting the Memorial, via the Broadcastr website or apps, or by calling 855-We-Remember.

— Benjamin Samuel is the Online Editor of Electric Literature.

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