At Ohio State, the two professors in the English department who are published and celebrated authors (at least locally celebrated) are literary authors. In the two fiction workshops I took last year, the focus was on literary writing. As my undergraduate advisor tells me, “Ohio State is mostly about literary.” And whenever genre is brought up, I hear a lot about how it’s not OSU’s thing, or there’s more of a focus on literary fiction, or that there are no professors who write genre fiction among the staff.

As a genre writer, particularly one of horror, I have to disagree with this. Yes, literary fiction is more focus on character development and on character-driven stories than genre. I am willing to admit that. However, I find it somewhat hypocritical that contemporary genre fiction isn’t worth examination and study in the English department. Yes, there’s a couple of classes that examine science fiction and fantasy, or famous monsters from literature, or YA fiction (I’m taking that first one this semester). But that’s not an acceptance of genre fiction. Ohio State still doesn’t accept genre fiction, at least not any within the past fifty years.

Personally I find that strange, considering how much genre fiction is used in required courses and in general scholarship. I mean, look at it: Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth are examined in classes all the time. If those were written today, they’d be classified as psychological thrillers with supernatural elements. And A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest would most likely be fantasy stories.

Ever read Beowulf? That’s in early British fiction courses all the time, and it is fantasy if ever I’ve seen fantasy. Rip van Winkle? Definitely a ghost story, seeing as Captain Hudson came back and put the titular character to sleep for twenty years. Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft? Horror writers and, at least in the case of the former, mystery writers. Frankenstein? The first modern science fiction novel. Dracula, anyone? It’s the basis for the modern vampire legend. Ever read Fahrenheit 451, or 1984, or Atlas Shrugged? They may be philosophical and full of character development, but they are certainly dystopia stories!

So why not contemporary genre fiction, if all this older genre fiction is worthy of attention? Perhaps because it’s popular, or maybe because some of its authors’ fame may not last a hundred years after their death. Maybe the stories haven’t had as much of an influence on literature as others have. Who knows?

But to exclude modern genre fiction just seems wrong. After all, the majority of people see literary fiction as boring or too elite. If English Studies is supposed to examine the English language, how it is used and how it affects the common man, and how it should be used, shouldn’t genre fiction be given as much consideration as literary fiction? Because honestly, genre fiction can have as much an effect on English literature as literary fiction, and sometimes even more.

So don’t exclude it. Include it, with all your academic heart and soul. You may find something there that is worth studying and makes including genre fiction more than worthwhile.

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Comments
  1. There’s really only one person making the decision for the focus on literary fiction-the head of the English department. It still sound like you are studying some amazing writing with the recognition that it’s genre fiction. Get from it all you can!

  2. segmation says:

    I went to OSU and one thing we did in one of the English classes is write about graffiti. At the time I thought it was a stupid assignment but everytime I see graffiti, I think of the assignment and OSU! http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  3. Good point. I was planning on bringing up the case of novels like 1984 and Brave New World, but then you beat me to it 🙂 And when you consider how 60’s rock is now considered “classic” and worthy of academic study, where it was considered pop and subversive in its own time, really hammers it home, doesn’t it?

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