From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

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 :)

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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  1. Hey, Sarah, congrats that you are studying for your MFA. It'll add more +++ than --- in the long run. Also glad to hear that you are feeling supported in the academic environment to pursue the kind of writing you are interested in. This push-and-pull feels very real in some ways, because I don't want to be pegged as a genre writer although my books look genre. I want to explore all kinds of writing and write the best darn books I can. You make a correct point that it really isn't WHAT you write, but HOW you write it that should be judged. Or, just write it anyway. Everything is subjective.

  2. Don't drop out. Just think how much farther ahead you will be with that knowledge. I think it will be the perfect blend and you'll be much more successful because of it.

  3. I would agree, don't drop out, especially since you have a lot of time and money invested. On a personal level, I find literary fiction to be very dry and non-entertaining, almost like reading an essay. I agree it's essential to tell a good story, but if it lacks warmth, depth and emotion, then what good is it?

    Father Nature's Corner

  4. I worked for the Tennessee Arts Commission when I first started writing...and back then, I wrote romance! They were surprisingly supportive, though. I found that many of my coworkers felt that any type of art is good art. However, there was a snobbery about Thomas Kincade by the artists I worked with, oddly. They didn't like the fact that his art was "mass produced." I think literary snobs are people who close their minds off to things they don't like...and how do you really grow as an artist if you aren't open?


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