Two Literary Cultures?

My friend Mark posted this Slate article today positing the idea that the literary world is split between two cultures, that of New York City publishing and MFA programs spread throughout the country. As a former MFA student, I suppose I must lean more in the MFA direction, though I hope to make my living solely off of publishing novels, which puts me more on the NYC publishing side. Really, though, I don't feel much like I belong to either culture, totally.

I suppose I'm not good at belonging to anything, really. I'm in no writing groups, feel no overwhelming urge to teach at university, and I don't hang out much in Brooklyn coffee shops wearing expensive blue jeans. Reading this Slate article made me feel a little sick, actually. Call me old fashioned, but I grew up with the idea that writers could just write and rock on, without all the strings attached. Of course, I suppose there's always strings attached to any profession.

Here's an excerpt from the article about the blanding of fiction:

In short, the writer who hopes to make a living by publishing—whether wildly successful like Franzen, more moderately so, or just starting out—is subject to a host of subtle market pressures, pressures that might be neutral in their aesthetic effects, but which enforce a certain consistency, and a sort of Authorial Social Responsibility. Regardless of whether reading comprehension and attention spans have declined, the publishers think that they have, and the market shapes itself accordingly. The presumed necessity of "competing for attention" with other media becomes internalized, and the work comes out crystal-clear. The point is not that good books go unpublished—to the contrary, scores of crappy literary novels continue to get snapped up by hopeful editors. The point is that market forces cause some good books to go unnoticed, and even more—how many more?—to go unwritten.



Kelly said...

It is always the case that authors need to adapt their books to the taste of their publishers and the taste the publishers think potential audiences have. How could it be otherwise? If you write something that publishers don't think they can sell, or that they don't independently love, they have no obligation to publish it. If you want to be "true to your voice" and not write to that (hypothetical) taste, publish independently (and keep all the money you shrewd bastard) or bury it in a chest in the basement to be found in a few decades.

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