Here is what I have been thinking about…
My objection regardingÂ snubs from literary institutionsÂ has a LOT to do with the classification of kidlit as “genre” writing.
And from the jump, one can argue that theÂ division between “genre” writing and “literary” writing is unacceptable.Â But I won’t. Because I actually think it is useful.Â Some books are “genre”.
Which is not to say BAD, only predictable.
When applied correctly.Â the term “Genre” should be assigned to work that is primarily formulaic.Â Mystery novels and Harlequin Romances follow very proscribed patterns.Â Sometimes, a writer finds a way to manipulate and transcend a formula, and that’s AWESOME! When that happens, the book rarely gets considered “genre” writing.Â Take a “sci-fi” book like Perelandra.Â Such books free themselves of “genre” classifications.Â But this whole system assumes a FORMULA.
When the term “genre” gets applied to kidlit, the term is being horribly (I think) misused.Â What in God’s name is the “forumla” for kidlit? There isn’t one.Â What formula applies to both Goosebumps #17 and The Little Prince?Â Or Little Women and Charlies Angels novelizations?Â Or Hop on Pop and Lord of the Rings (which are both BRILLIANT literature, btw)?
These books all fall into ONE genre?
No, the only thing they share is an extremely broad readership ( a readership, I might add, that encompasses a HUGE range of intellectual sophistication, far greater than the range of any adult readership).Â They haveÂ a lot less in common that, say, Bungalo 2 and many Pulitzer Prizewinners. And yet they all share this “genre” heading.
Which causes, I think, people to treat them all–to some degree– as forumulaic.Â Which is SO WRONG.
And perhaps to assume that because the readership is less sophisticated( is it really?) and less discerning and divisive, that the writers of kidlit are less talented, serious, intellectual, and LITERARY!
When in fact they are innovators, poets, geniuses.
I find this “genre” terminologyÂ particularly distasteful in light of all the terribly formulaic “literary” writing in the world.Â How many MFA writers have published bad midlist “literary” novels about young self-aware singles struggling against the urban landscape and their own ennui?Â How many literary magazines have a published a poem that goes something like…
Daybreak at (insert old european building or decaying American industrial structure)
The (insert birds or small animals) aren’t here today,
butÂ as the (insert weather system) rolls in,
I glance at my (insert body part)
And remember you saying once
That (insert wise or spare comment),
On a day much like this one.
(Insert refection or question)
I notice for the first time that my
(insert phsyical attribute of aforementioned bodypart)
has grown (insert emotion or insightfulÂ description)
And as I turn and walk back along the
worn path to the (insert name business or car)
I see that the (insert animal from line 1)
has finally come, bearing (insert something small).
And I feel (insert transformative and/or static emotion).
I notice my hands are empty.
How forumulaic is most “literary”Â MFA-style writing?Â Churned out as it is afterÂ the same advice, the same comments, the same models?Â It often takes an MFA student years to rediscoverÂ their own voice.Â I know it took me a loooong time, a lot of blogging, a few bouts of writer’s block, a ton of reading, and a massive intellectual re-org.
In fact, one could argue that good kidlit is less formulaic because most of it wasn’t written after such a streamlining process.
I feel strongly we need to STOP applying this term to books simply because they haveÂ a young marketing demographic.Â If the division of literary/genre is relevant to begin with, it needs to be assigned based on the content, not the proposed readership, of a book.
There ARE genre boks– romances, mysteries, horror, etc.Â For ALL ages. There are juvenile romances, mysteries and horrors, just as there are adult romances, mysteries and horrors.Â But to assign this title, this categorical term, to an entire body of literature before it has been read… or even written…
That’s bonkers.Â And insulting.Â Not because genre writing is bad (I’m a huge Agatha Christie fan myself) but because it is oversimplifed, reductive.
Anyway… I know I tend to rant aimlessly, andÂ I could go on, and on, and on…Â but I won’t. I’ll stop here, and say that I’m pretty sure I’m right about this one.