Was out with one of my friends and his wife today (waving to them because they read the blog). Whenever I get around Bill, we talk about books and writing. As you may know, I graduated from a MFA program in ’04; MFA programs work to generate writers of LITERATURE. I came to the program as a pure GENRE head. I wrote mysteries. I wrote women’s fiction. My goal in coming to the program wasn’t to necessarily write LITERATURE. It was to better my writing in general so that EVERYTHING I write, no matter the “genre,” was the best writing I could do.
Needless to say, the program shoved LITERATURE down my throat (which isn’t a bad thing) and at times, I felt compelled to hide the fact that I was a published author of genre novels; in fact, my fiction professor did not know about my published activities until my third year at the uni.
So why am I telling you all this?
Well, Bill and I talked about lit and genre today. I was telling him how it’s gotten so outrageous; IT’S being the riff between genre and literature. He’s a big sci-fi/fantasy buff and believes that there are some sci-fi/fantasy books that are literature; I agree. I told him about the huge CHICK LIT vs. REAL WOMEN’S LITERATURE clash that’s been going on for a while now.
I remember back when I was like 14, and I would write scripts and bad stories in my 5-subject notebook, and I didn’t think about whether it was popular, or whether I would be Shakespeare’s long lost illegitimate great (to the umpteenth power) literary grandchild (though I wish that were true–totally dig Shakey!). It was just the love of words and the visions of stories that played on my mind’s screen that now others could enjoy. I miss the idea of writing SOLELY what I love without someone going, “Hmm, so well, you write the stuff that goes inside bubblegum pink covers?” And being black, it’s even harder because most of the stuff I like to read comes in one color: vanilla. So here I am, liking bubblegum pink, but bubblegum pink isn’t dark enough (though I digress).
I’m staring at one of my bookshelves now. I see Plath and Sexton. I see Donald Goines. I see black feminist thought. I see semiotics. I see I’m with Cupid, The Pact, The Psychology of Suicide, Alcohol and the Addictive Brain, The Godfather, several books by Virginia Woolf, nearly two shelves of Red Dress Ink and Downtown Press books. I’m an eclectic reader. I like to think. I like to be entertained. I like to be rescued from my life and to escape into someone else’s for awhile. GOOD stories, whether they are chick lit, lit, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, etc., do that.
I think both sides of the fence–genre and lit–need to come together and realize that just as there is literature that is entertaining, there is genre that makes one think, that is about character development and not strictly plot based. Though….I can’t help but think of how ANY story, any story that’s good mind you, could NOT have something happen (plot) and strong characters that change and call itself a STORY, but then, that’s just my opinion…