On Genre Snobbery

On Genre Snobbery


Figure 1. Jesus Fucking Christ Already


Last August I completed my MFA in fiction writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop of Pacific Lutheran University. A great decision on my part. I learned so much.  My thesis became Sex & Violence and the second half of my program, I began writing what eventually became Perfectly Good White Boy. Most importantly, though, I made so many great friends that I love so much. I love them, across genres and aesthetics and geography, in fact.

This August, I went to watch some of these friends graduate. It was a beautiful, lovely, hilarious nerd vacation – who goes back to sit in on craft talks about writing? – and I’m so proud of my friends and their accomplishments. So happy to see the faculty who taught me so much.

But. Genre Snobbery. It’s alive and well.

Here is something that gets mentioned in MFA environments constantly:

“This is a literary program.”

Perhaps this should be tattooed on all MFA participants heads? It gets said so much that you’d think outside the classrooms, genre authors are lurking, pressing their noses up to the windows and smudging them with their unliterary ideas.

But me pointing out genre snobbery isn’t me wanting to talk up Young Adult. I love Young Adult lit and people being dickish is not going to change that. It’s what I love to read; it’s fun to write; it’s where my concerns as a person are concentrated.

HOWEVER.  I don’t think YA is better than literary fiction. I don’t think #YASaves, either.

I think #ReadingSaves.

And how we make more readers is not by hoping our culture will produce people who shoot out the womb clamoring for Vladimir Nabokov and Marilynne Robinson and Alice Munro and Jonathan Fucking Franzen.*

We make more readers by demonstrating that reading is a pleasure. And since most folks don’t emerge from their mother’s nethers with intense cravings for Donna Tartt and Toni Morrison, we need to get them hooked on prose stories when they’re young.

A person’s journey to Jeffrey Eugenides and Don DeLillo starts with Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone. With Anne of Green Gables. With Goodnight Moon.

Denigrating kidlit and other popular fiction genres because they’re on trend or making tons of money is not going to change that. Go ahead and be bitter about the unfairness of cash pouring into the hands of those who write these books, but it doesn’t change the fact that children don’t generally come to reading with a crushing need for Thomas Pynchon or A.S. Byatt.

Young readers want story, and they will take it any way they can get it. And they can get it lots of ways now. This is not the 1800’s, where the parlor entertainment was a piano and someone reading aloud baroque deathless descriptive sentences.

Now, we have television. We have movies. We have radio. We have the goddamn benighted internet that so many literary-fiction fans hate so much.

None of that can be changed, either.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents,” said Emilie Buchwald, co-founder and long-time editor of Milkweed Editions (an esteemed literary publisher from my home state, I’m proud to say.)

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. And the world is full of readers who want all kinds of stories. Mysteries and spy thrillers and dirty romances and science fiction capers. They want them because it’s fun and enjoyable and thoughtful and delicious to read stories. Not everyone will graduate to the upper echelons of appreciating Faulkner. And that’s okay. Because #ReadingSaves.

I want to shake this into people who insist on sneering about genre. I don’t care if it comforts you to sniff at Nicholas Sparks and Clive Cussler and Stephenie Meyer for what you consider their unjust, ill-gotten gains.

If you want a world with more readers, then your snobbery about genre is hardly honey to the flies you want to lap up your work and pay for it.



*this is his real, actual name


  • Sarah on Aug 13, 2014 Reply

    This is why I’m loving my mfa program at hamline for writing for children and young adults. I’ve yet to see any genre snobbery whether you’re writing ya fantasy or non-fiction pbs.

    I have heard of some snobbery in the regular mfa side at hamline though.

    • Carrie Mesrobian on Aug 13, 2014 Reply

      MFA programs with kidlit concentrations of course get it. Had I known I was going to write a YA novel, I would have applied to Hamline, certainly. A great faculty.

      My program has great faculty, too. I learned so much. But this persistent theme bugs the everloving shit out of me.

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