27 November 2010

Literary cultures.

I loved this article in Slate about the parallel literary establishments of the MFA and NYC worlds. I shan't recap, because you should really go read the article, but I did a lot of nodding. I dropped out of my poetry MFA after a year, when I realized I was only having fun in my modern dance class, and I guess I'm on the periphery of the NYC market now, as a local bookseller. What bugged me most about my MFA program (besides my cohorts' lack of knowledge of, or interest in, much lit besides contemporary poetry, most of which bores me silly) was the willful blindness to the business end of things. I can write on my own (not that I really do anymore...), but I've no clue how to query, how to locate likely lit mags, how to format a goddamn manuscript--and the trade is just completely ignored--all something we're somehow supposed to pick up on our own. Or not, maybe--as the article points out, the point of an MFA is to secure your position in the MFA system; in other words, to get a teaching job. And that's fine if you want to teach. But I never did; nor was I any good at it. And I don't think there's any connection between writing well and teaching well, so it's a shame the teacher-writer is the standard.

But then, I see the shortcomings of the NYC publisher model, too, of course: business corrupts art, art avoids business, etc. I feel much more hopeful than my academic-y brethren & sistern about American Letters, though, as great books are being published all the time, whether heralded or no. Really, the three letters I'd offer as the literary culture producing the best work right now are SF/F. I know it's a pet topic with me that realism is limiting, and I find myself loving realistic novels all the time--but when the NYTBR positive review of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe has to explicitly say "sometimes sci-fi can tell us more about our lives through metaphor than straight-up realism" IN THIS DAY AND AGE WHEN IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN TRUE?!?! It seems it still bears repeating.

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