Aimee Bender, Alice Sebold, Amazing Stories, Audrey Niffenegger, Charles Dickens, Chris Bohjalian, genre, Gollancz, Henry James, Margaret Atwood, Phillip Roth, Stewart O'Nan, Unstuck, William Shakespeare
A couple of interlocking items from the Amazing Stories blog piqued my interest today. The first is a link to a story on the blog of venerable British publisher Gollancz, which advocates the embrace of mainstream authors who dabble, or sometimes even wallow, in genre sensibility. The second is a blog post extolling the virtues of a new literary magazine, Unstuck, which “emphasize[s] literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal.”
Both illustrate something I believe wholeheartedly: “genre” and “literary” are not mutually exclusive styles of literature. In fact, I believe these distinctions have been forced upon readers by some in academia (we’ll discuss that in a future post), and anything that authors or publishers can do to break down these barriers is welcome.
As pointed out by the Gollancz article, any number of respectable, mainstream and/or literary writers frequent the deep waters of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Gollancz points to Audrey Niffenegger, Margaret Atwood, and Philip Roth, among others, to which I’d add folks like Stewart O’Nan, Alice Sebold, and even Chris Bohjalian (see The Night Strangers). If we want to get historical, everyone from Charles Dickens to Henry James to William Shakespeare himself could be classified as having a genre sensibility.
I say, if literary and mainstream authors want to play in the genre sandbox, we should let them. And we should embrace them, whether they like it or not.
Along that line, the launch of Unstuck seems like a small, but good step forward. Explicitly calling for the breaking down of the literary/genre distinction, the first two issues look fantastic, with praise from the New York Times and fiction from Aimee Bender. It makes me think some of my not-quite-genre-not-quite-literary stories may find a home after all.
Like I said, Unstuck represents one step toward healing the artificial rift between speculative fiction and its mainstream and literary brothers. The step may be small, but as someone once said, that’s how even the longest journey starts.