Monday, July 16, 2012

Guest Post: Three Highbrow Writers Who've Gone Paranormal by Angelita Williams

Three Highbrow Writers Who’ve Gone Paranormal

It may seem that the division between what used to be considered “high” and “low” culture gets more blurred all the time, but the fact is, it was ever thus. Writing about fairies and ghosts and magicians never hurt Shakespeare’s literary cred (though in his own time he was very much pop-culture).

In our own time, even as the phenomenon of self-publishing has made literature more democratic, it seems like the world of “literary” fiction, the kind of stuff discussed in the New York Times Book Review, gets ever more rarified... like you need an MFA to write a book the way you need a license to drive a car. Yet the writers themselves are increasingly products of the postmodern generation, weaned on rock and roll, Saturday Night Live, and the X-Men. Here are a fistful of boundary-breakers who’ve made it in the ivory tower, only to go rogue and start writing genre work:

1. Mat Johnson

One of last year’s most acclaimed releases was Pym, Johnson’s extremely funny fantasy drawn from Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel. In addition to exploring the juncture of genre and great American literature that Poe embodies, the book provides a satirical view of academia and race, lampooning Johnson’s own experience as a biracial college professor. Johnson is no stranger to paranormal and has also worked in comics, including a stint with DC’s Hellblazer.

2. Michael Chabon

A 25-year-old Chabon’s MFA thesis became his first published novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and his follow-up Wonder Boys was adapted for a well-regarded movie with Michael Douglas. After that, he devoted himself to a mission of recuperating genre fiction as a pursuit for “serious” writers. 2000’s Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay explored the Jewish influence in comic books, and Chabon followed it with the mystery The Final Solution and the alternate-history novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Most recently, Chabon was hired as a script doctor for Disney’s John Carter.

3. Justin Cronin

Hailing from both Harvard and the “Harvard” of the creative writing world, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Cronin won the PEN/Hemingway Award with 2001’s Mary and O’Neil. When the 2004 follow-up The Summer Guest failed to make much of a splash, Cronin began work on an apocalyptic vampire trilogy, prompting a bidding war for the anonymous manuscript (though he would ultimately release the books under his own name, unlike the many literary lions who keep a special pseudonym for dabbling in genre). The Passage was released in 2010 and the second volume, The Twelve, comes out later this year.

The walls are indeed coming down. Not only are established mainstream writers like these and many more crossing over into genre fiction, but self-published books and even e-books are becoming some of the best-selling and most-discussed in our culture. Where it’s all leading, or what great novels await us, we’ll just have to wait and see!

A born writer, Angelita Williams loves to write short stories. Her second passion is education, a topic that she covers incessantly as a freelance blogger. Though she has an allegiance to online education, she’s dedicated to depicting all forms of education equally, and she writes impartially about college courses online and offline. Angelita can be found at