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Gary Younge
Where is the great literature of the 70s?

There are historical moments. And then there is literature. And since literature does not come from nowhere one would assume that there must be a link - it is difficult to imagine that bombs falling, systems overthrown and social upheaval taking place around a literary mind would have no impact whatsoever.

Given the pace novelists write at and the time it can take to get published it is difficult to trace any connection between events and writers as opposed to events and content - there was a rush of world war two novels a decade ago informed not by direct experience, but nostalgia.

Take a look at the decade after the revolutions in Europe 1848, which produced classics including Moby-Dick, Vanity Fair, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Madame Bovary and Les Fleurs du Mal. Conversely the 10 years after the Russian revolution or the American civil war produced precious little.

It seems on the whole that specific moments, as opposed to demographic and political trends, have far more impact. The early urbanisation of African Americans provided the raw material for the Harlem Renaissance. Demobbing after the second world war produced a generation of young, clever, angry men with plenty to write about and a much more literate public than the first. Ireland's constant turmoil has produced far more than its fair share of laureates. Eight years after the event, 9/11 has produced little in the way of great literature; but I dare say the war on terror will.

1968, the theme of this years Prague Writers' Festival, seems to stand in between. It was a year of great upheaval, certainly, but figures more as a significant temporal marker in a period of broader change. Feminism, anti-colonialism, gay-rights, pro-democracy, anti-imperialism student protest, civil rights. None of these developments were new but all seemed to crescendo on or very close to 1968.

But in terms of literature the 70s produced relatively little of great lasting interest. Could it be that the sixties gave greater voice to a generation of writers - women, developing world, black, gay and so on - who would need a decade to mature into writers? Was it not as significant a year politically as we thought it was? Certainly, compared with world wars and major revolutions it could be regarded as fairly timid - unless you lived in parts of Africa. Perhaps the link between political moments and literary trends is just too reductive to take seriously.

· Gary Younge is chairing Guardian Conversation: 1968 at the Prague Writers' Festival

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