Monday, September 28, 2015
Literary vs. Popular: FIGHT TO THE DEATH!!
I've noticed some very interesting things in the last few weeks. MFA programs often get the reputation for being snobby, and condescending. Now, I haven't noticed that systemically at BYU. My professors are wonderful, and take my (and others) fantasy and speculative work just as seriously as anybody elses, and they're perfectly happy to let me do an MG or YA novel for my thesis. But a couple things happened to me on the same day that made me realize how strong this seeming battle is in people's minds, and I don't like it.
So, as I said, my professors are great. I mentioned in a previous blogpost, though, that there are definitely times when I feel a little intimidated, and to be completely honest its just a small handful of the other students that make me feel that way. So, in class one day, we were going over publishing and conferences and the professor asked one of the other students about a particular conference that he'd been to. The student said something like, "It was good, yeah, but it seemed more like, toward the popular side of things, not so much literary, you know what I mean?"
And then. Later that same night, I was volunteering at Leading Edge, the science fiction and fantasy magazine at BYU. (They're having a flash fiction contest right now, and you should totally submit, or just submit a short story anyway because they need good work. Like seriously, submit!). Anyway, these are such fantastic people, and I feel so comfortable and myself around them. We talked about Salt Lake ComicCon and Doctor Who and Brandon Sanderson, who teaches at BYU. One of the people there asked me what I was studying, and when I told him I was doing an MFA, he said, "MFA's don't really do anything for you. You should drop out and just write."
So. Here's my thing. I think each side has it about 50% correct. When people get snobby or hyper-literary about their writing, I want to say, "Well I won't see you on the New York Times Bestseller list anytime soon, will I?" And when spec writers say MFAs are pointless, I want to say, "You realize that Brandon Sanderson, the idol of so many in this room, has an MFA, right?"
It is vitally important in ANY story to 1) Tell a good story and 2) Tell it well.
Why do so many feel like those things are contradictory? It is so incredibly frustrating to me when literary writers look down on genre fiction, or when genre writers don't feel obligated to learn and practice their craft. Haven't we proven time and time again that genre fiction can be incredibly literary? *ahem* Ursula Le Guin *ahem*. Haven't we proven that literary fiction can spin a ripping good yarn? *ahem* Anthony Doerr *ahem*.
I realize I'm preaching to the choir here, a bit, because y'all are awesome and I'm sure you don't have too many disagreements with me here :) I'm also not saying one has to be genre to be popular, or has to get an MFA to write well. Neither of those things are remotely true, its just my particular situation. Anyway, it's just fun to rant about this every once in a while, isn't it? Especially when its so present in my current situation, more so than ever before. But its kidna funny, really, and I just smile and say, yes, I'm going to write YA supernatural, and yes, I'm going to get an MFA. Because both sides are important. You guys know this :)
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