Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Response to Ted, Death of Literature, A Final Rant.

This is Julianna Baggott's response to Ted Genoways' piece in MOTHER JONES, "The Death of Fiction?"

Dear Ted,

I'm teaching this essay in both a grad and undergrad class -- discussing the larger issues at play. Personally, I have trouble with the idea of literature as dying as I'm only second generation literate. There were only three books in my grandmother's house -- thousands in mine. And I'm not alone. And all those who are studying the craft of writing are also learning to be better readers -- of lit mags? Perhaps not, but overall ... Plus, the definition of a bestseller from the 70s to now has grown about ten-fold. People bemoan the huge corporate bookstore -- but not every little town had a corner bookstore -- and who knew there were so many books in the world? They built it. They came. Our desires got skewed ...

Lit mags, though, agreed. But it's not just the writers out there who have to be adaptable if they want to survive ... Lit mags have to be willing to grow some webbed feet.

I don't want to get the rep for beating the sexist drum too hard, but I was looking at an issue of VQR not long ago and it was dominated by male writers and poets. This may well be a fluke, but, Ted, now that I've heard your call to to arms here -- almost a literal call to arms as you're looking for more voices from our current wars (I think our big writers from other wars is largely a function of other wars having a draft) -- I'm a little worried about how this plays out ....

Listen for a moment -- the realm of the domestic (home to the navel -- which for women, hey, it's how we actually sustain life...) -- has historically been whose domain? The woman's. And haven't we taken enough guff for being too domestic? That our novels aren't about the "big" "important" themes of war, adventure, the larger world?

Personally, I've heard enough about it. Ask Virginia -- before she filled her pockets with stones -- how the domestic could be a battlefield.

I was having kids during my early writing years (and later ones) -- four total. And though my novels have led me far and wide in terms of research, do you want to know what I really understand about the world?

How a baby's eyelids go pink just before it starts to cough.

That is my lifeblood, Ted.

THAT is what I know.

I cannot tell you about the world of war -- or that larger world you want me to look out onto. I'm trapped here now, supporting a family of six -- sole breadwinner -- my livelihood as well as my lifeblood. I only know this trapped world -- but here is my report from those front lines:

It is bloody and filled with grief and loss ... If looked at closely enough, it holds the whole world within it. And I'm not the first writer or last to say it so.


Julianna Baggott