“Is it Literary Fiction?”

**To preface, I am saying literary fiction not in a plot v. character driven way since many books have both now regardless of genre, but I mean realism (lit fic) versus a story with a genre aesthetic (genre fic)**

I was sitting in my grad school class, Women and Autonomy, discussing how women are often expected to write certain genres or certain stories and suddenly my work was brought into the conversation.  I mentioned how at a book fair, quite a few people assumed by boyfriend was the author because The Earl of Brass is not only scifi but has a brown cover and is told partially from the point of view of a man. My professor remembered that I write steampunk and mentioned how that genre often gives women a greater prominence and strength than many other scifi or fantasy subgenres.  As she spoke, a voice piped up from the end of the conference table.

“Is it literary fiction?”

Step one on how to make Kara’s blood boil: Question the merit of her writing based on its genre.  I must admit, I instantly felt the venom rising, but something rather wonderful happened.  My classmates, who are all pursuing an MA in literature or an MFA in creative writing, called into question the merit of “literary” fiction.

Immediately the class cynic replied that literary fiction was merely a marketing ploy if you looked at it from a Marxist perspective, Before the questioner could respond, my professor and several others started name-dropping authors in the literary cannon who were considered to not be worthy of the establishment when they were writing.  People like Dickens, Dumas, Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne were all considered to be lesser writers because they did not write what the establishment deemed of merit but were later added to the canon of literary elite when the virtues of their writing style out-shined their subjects and genres.

I don’t know why I was so shocked to hear my classmates immediately jump on the difference between “genre” fiction and “literary” fiction.  The difference between the previous generations and the younger generation is the way they view what should garner merit in fiction.  There seems to be a greater emphasis on good writing and storytelling than on what genre or subject the piece is about. (If you’re wondering the person who posed the question initially is in her fifties or sixties versus my twenty-something classmates and thirty-something professor).

I can’t say this enough: this is how it should be.  Books should be judged based on their writing and not whether the story is considered realism and literary fiction.  This morning, I woke up to see a blog post about someone knocking romance writers and acting as if their job and work is not worth nearly as much as other genres.  Writers should support other writers.  It doesn’t matter whether they write romance or hard scifi, they are doing the same job as you, and you should help them up rather than push them down with negativity.  I never really cared about genre v. lit fic or genre v. genre until I became a writer, but the prejudice is out there and needs to end.  Judging an author by their genre is no better than judging them by their ethnicity or gender.

9 thoughts on ““Is it Literary Fiction?”

  1. I prefer to read (and write) in the fantasy genre – which can be seriously male centric, both authors and readers. But that doesn’t stop me from writing it or from reading it. And it certainly doesn’t stop me from reading and loving other genres. I never base/judge someone’s work on the genre – it’s based (for me at least) on how it made me feel and how well I thought it was written.

    I adore Brandon Sanderson because he can write from both the male and female perspective and sound natural. He can build a world from his brain that is so real it looks like it’s easy. He is my Tolkien.

    I also am not one to love a book just because it’s been deemed a classic or literary…however you want to label it. I read it. If I can relate to it and it’s a good story than to me it’s a classic.

    1. I totally agree. I have kind of outgrown cardboard cut out characters (like Dan Brown sadly or James Paterson), but any book where the characters are relateable and pull something from me has my vote.

  2. You’re very lucky to have classmates who are educated and open-minded! And I agree with you completely. I’d rather support others in their craft than criticize. If only I could write romance! I’m too immature…I’d be giggling over love scenes I wrote. I don’t think I could get anything done!

    1. Some MFA programs can be cut-throat, but ours definitely isn’t. We see each other constantly since there aren’t many of us, and we try not to be nasty to each other. It isn’t worth it.

      1. Some MFA in writing programs are the same way. I’m sure the University of Iowa’s program is like that. It’s a top tier program, unlike ours, which is probably why we are nice to each other.

      2. I honestly don’t know about writing programs around the country. Although, I can’t imagine U of I would be negative since it’s so popular and well-liked. Their MOOCs are not like that.

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