Is America Manufacturing its Literature?

Genre fiction, serial romances, and murder mysteries for every letter of the alphabet have been dominating the American writing scene for years. Now one Nobel Prize official says that our introspective view of writing may be stunting our creativity. Swedish Academy member Horace Engdahl is one of 18 people who had a say in who won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. That makes him something of an expert on good writing.

But in an interview leading up to the announcement of this year’s award, he let loose something of a literary bombshell:

“These novelists, who are often educated in European or American universities, don’t transgress anything because the limits which they have determined as being necessary to cross don’t exist.”

This isn’t the first time Engdahl has blasted western literature. In 2008 he said:

“The US is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature … That ignorance is restraining.”

It’s Engdahl’s opinion that the professionalization of the American writer, through grants and financial support ties the writer to his or her supporters and hampers creativity. Engdahl would much prefer writers who brought themselves through on low-paying jobs, which he believes feeds authors from a literary perspective.

As a creative writing major and a professional blogger, I have to admit taking momentary offense at Mr. Engdahl’s opinion. How dare he say I am not creative, just because I get paid for what I do? But when I step back and consider my writing, and particularly my literary training, there is some validity to what he says.

How much time each week do I spend reading, and even writing, about the idea format, keywords, and strategies to get people to read what I write? And how much has my writing been affected by teachers who held up “literary fiction” as a standard to aspire to, rather than the result of a creative mind?

Andrew Kidd, the literary agent who founded the Folio prize, noted that it was:

“[C]ertainly the case that some of the strongest new voices in literature are emerging from those places where change is dramatic rather than incremental, from where the news is most urgent to report, and the global outlook of the Folio prize was designed to capture these voices not least”.

It is certainly assumed to be true that the most compelling art is fed by necessity and desperation. Our strongest stories, and most beautiful artwork, is born from our greatest need.

So is it possible that, by taking away that need and giving writers financial support and backing, America is simultaneously stealing their passion? Possibly. Or does it mean that we, as supported writers, are simply able to focus higher – on or ideological passions instead of our daily bread? I, for one, would hope so.

Lisa Schmidt is a ghostblogger and blog coach for Legal Linguist. She has a degree in creative writing and is a practicing lawyer. She helps lawyers and other professionals use content marketing to grow their businesses. If you need help cultivating your online expertise, contact Legal Linguist for a meeting today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.