There’s something to be said about the lack of respect genre fiction gets in academic settings. I’ve been studying literature as an undergrad student for a little over two years now, and not once was I ever assigned a sci-fi book, or a fantasy, or a horror, or a western, or a romance that isn’t two bored upper-middle class people with their boring problems and their boring town. I did have to read a mystery once, but it was an outlier, and not particularly good.
The Wikipedia page for “Genre Fiction” states, “More commercially oriented genre fiction has been dismissed by literary critics as poorly written or escapist”, and everything I’ve heard about it in my classes tends to support that opinion. There are a couple of professors who do mention genre fiction and maybe assign excerpts, but those classes often deal with literature written for youths and children, and that in itself lowers the standards of those categories (because children don’t know what is good and what is bad, obviously, because if they did they wouldn’t be reading those books).
It’s much easier to sneak in genre fiction during writing classes. Whenever I take a workshop, I always write queer, and always in the genre fiction category, because everyone in class probably needs a breather from convoluted prose that often puts half of them to sleep, or the poorly edited pieces of the less driven students. These stories always generate better discussions, at least in my opinion, with students leaning forward in their seats to talk to each other excitedly, shooting back-and-forth comments and interacting with the characters on more personal levels, as if they are living beings.
Now, for the most part, it’s not an issue. You read a book that is assigned, write a paper, and move on to the next one. Doesn’t really matter if it’s about a rich 18th century family, or about androids in far away galaxies. But here comes the issue. For writers who delve into genre fiction the playing field is sabotaged by the opinions of the ‘academics’ who leach their rapport into the public. Fantasy is a waste of time, science fiction is only good if it was written eighty years ago, and romance is pure garbage. You can talk about your favorite genre book with people in passing, but at gatherings it’s only polite to bring out the Brontes and the Tolstoys.
Where it is an issue though is in pursuing it as a job, as a career. While I was applying to grad schools to study Creative Writing, every professor, bar one, told me to make sure that I didn’t send in anything that deviated from literary writing. All of them said nearly the same thing, almost word for word, “it’s a shame that grad schools don’t look for genre authors, but what can you do? I suggest sending the literary ones, they’ll increase your chances.” Academic hypocrisy at its finest.
It’s funny though, because in every writing class I had, at one point or another the professor would mention money. “You don’t write for money, you write because you love it.” No, I write because I love it, and I’d like to make money too. Commercially oriented, escapist genre fiction is commercially oriented and escapist for a reason. The top three sellers on Amazon, at the very moment I am typing this, is Ready Player One, Harry Potter, and Oathbringer. Two fantasies and a science fiction book. All of them have been on the charts for more than twenty weeks.
I’ve never really been a particularly ambitious person, and with a portfolio consisting almost entirely of queer ladies living in fantastical worlds I had about, oh, negative one stories that would fit the ‘literary’ description, and I wasn’t about to create ones I wouldn’t enjoy writing.
So, one morning, with about four or so hours until application deadlines (I’m, unfortunately, a procrastinator) I uploaded a word file with about five short pieces, all of them genre fiction and gay as hell, and clicked ‘send’.
Out of four colleges, I got accepted into two. One has called me with an interview, specifically asking me about my genre writing, and later sent me an acceptance letter with a personalized handwritten note. Columbia University called to tell me I was accepted about a week later. You know, maybe if the nation’s fifth top university is accepting students with portfolios full of queers in space, then maybe there is a place for good ol’ escapist stories in academia, because even academics need a breath of fresh air.