Hey friends, just a quick post today, to push my essay on LitHub: “If literary writers want to be published, they can’t be honest about money.” Wrote this ages ago, but it’s taken a while to move to the top of the publication stack.
Can’t exactly remember the genesis of this essay, but it’s based on one of my least favorite kinds of literary criticism: the phony trend piece. Basically, it’s when critics are like “Why don’t people write about X” when we all know the answer is “Because X wouldn’t get published”. In this case, X is honest takes on money and occupation in literary fiction. And it’s because literary writers have an incentive to obfuscate their/our origins and financial situation in order to appeal to middlebrow readers.
I will say, I don’t think it’s really a race thing. Lots of non-white authors come from very financially secure backgrounds and/or have spent a lot of time in situations where they didn’t have to worry about money (whether due to a professorship or early critical success or whatever). I also don’t think it’s a solvable problem. Literary fiction is the fiction of a certain subset of people (what conservatives would call ‘the liberal elite’), but it draws much of its power by appealing to people who are outside that elite (which I call ‘the book club audience’). The book club audience, although it tends to be white and college-educated, is MUCH more diverse than the liberal elite, so in order for our fiction to be relatable, there needs to be a purposeful obfuscation about certain things. Like, we’re like, “My parents were lawyers” and the audience is like, “I too am a lawyer, my kids could write books like this.” But oftentimes our readers do, like, family law, while our parents are the kind of lawyer that makes seven figures a year defending Wal-Mart from labor lawsuits. But we’ve created a fantasy world where “lawyer” has a unitary meaning, and these differences are effaced, and the existence of that world is critical to our success as writers!