The Literary/Genre Divide

At the Edinburgh Book Festival this year I interviewed Tess Gerritsen and Michèle Roberts (post coming soon). Whenever I interview someone, I always ask right at the end, ‘is there anything else you want to tell me?’ Sometimes they just say ‘no’ and other times they come out with the most interesting/surprising/inspiring nugget of personal information. Gerritsen and Roberts both responded to this question by saying they hated the genre/literary divide.

I knew straight away that I wanted to explore this issue. Without even meaning to, I had stumbled upon two writers on either side of a chasm,  both of whom wanted a little of what the other had. 

I just wrote a post about it over at Scottish Book Trust’s Soapbox blog. It would make me very happy if you would pop over there to read it and leave a comment. I feel quite nervous about having something I’ve written posted on a website that isn’t all mine. It would be nice to see some familiar names in the comments box!

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’ve made a suggestion about how we could shrink that alienating literary/genre divide. I’m sure you also have some ideas and I’d love to hear them.


6 thoughts on “The Literary/Genre Divide

  1. I really enjoyed your article and you’ve touched on something I’m very interested in, and something I write a lot about – labels and distinctions. Often times I think many such debates boil down to the stubborness of class distinctions: literary fiction, in this case, being the smaller, elite if you like, epicentre of cultural reading, whereas genre fiction is often sneered at as the lesser masses. Prol fiction perhaps? And it seems that the only times literary fiction writers want to be part of genre is for the money that goes with the mass sales. What would be interesting is, how many literary writers would be happy to drop that label from their fiction? Conversely, I’m tipping the genre fiction writers would be straight in to have some rightful literaryness assigned to their work – they already have the fan base and this seems to be tha route out of the label divide.

    • Interesting point, Rachel. I’m not sure that any literary writers would be happy to drop that label. Labelling makes may cause a divide but it also provides authors with something to hold on to. They can say, “Well, my books may not make me a lot of money, but they are literary, and that’s something to be proud of.” Or, “Sure, I’ll never win a literary prize, but I make a living out of my writing and that’s more than many literary writers can say.”

      Thanks for commenting on my SBT blog post. I can see there are comments queued up but they’re not visible on the site yet because they need to be approved. As soon as that happens I’ll go over and join in the discussion.

  2. Headed over to check it out. I DETEST the genre divide; it really makes me seethe. But… I think being ‘classist’ is sadly a human thing and I’m not sure there’s any cure. How’s that for a pessimistic outlook? 🙂

    Hope you’re having a good weekend.

    • Hi Talli, I think you’re right, it is a human thing, but we don’t seem to have such an extreme divide in film or music. The equivalent of a literary novel might be an independent arty French film or classical music, and these both make money and are respected. Genre films still get nominated for major, high profile awards and independent arty films still get screened in cinemas all over the country. I don’t know why books are different.

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