I went and played with the scary kids from over the road.

I recently attended the Noted Literary Festival in Canberra, and I don't mind telling you that I had a terrific time. The program is still posted over at the web site, so I won't recap it here. What I will say is that it's really fun to move outside the smaller sphere of speculative fiction and mingle with poets, creative-non-fiction writers, songwriters, humor writers, prose writers, interstitial writers, and readers of all these things. There were slams and readings, workshops and discussions, formal and informal interactions of all kinds. In other words, it was not at all unlike a spec-fic convention, but with a somewhat broader brief and perhaps a bit less irony.

We in the spec-fic world frequently assert that the distinction between literary and spec is a false one. Why not take some concrete steps to prove it? I’d love to see more and more spec fic infiltrating the literary world. Spec poetry, spec scripts, spec stories. I'd like to see that boundary dissolving — in fact, I'd like to see pretty much all those arbitrary divisions among various writing styles and communities dissolving. Even the boundary between "popular" and "literary" is, in my opinion, false. It is not inherent in the writing itself; it's imposed from outside, for commercial reasons. But how can we prove it?

  • We can make more of an effort to participate in "literary" events by attending them and submitting expressions of interest to participate as panelists (not to mention suggesting panels).

  • Through such participation, we can share what spec-fic does best — estrangement, energetic plotting, rich and satisfying world-building, and sly irony — with writers of other styles and forms.

  • We can bring more forms and more styles into spec-fic conventions, through inviting guests from the "literary" world to participate in panels, readings, and workshops.

  • We can support ongoing and increasing academic research into speculative fiction as literature as well as entertainment.

  • We can read more of what is generally classified as "literature". (Pro tip: there is already a lot out there that straddles the contrived line between "literary" and speculative fiction; I suggest for your reading pleasure The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, just as a start.)

  • We can keep experimenting in our own speculative writing with different and challenging techniques snurched from "literary" fiction and other forms.

  • We can keep rejoicing in discovering new writing in whatever form, and making a good-faith effort to enjoy it for what it is. This is the secret, and if you're already doing this, you're already making literature more vibrant and powerful, more of a source of light and joy in a world crucially short on both.

So: when’s the next "literary" festival in your town or city? If there isn't one, why not start one? Make it self-consciously inclusive of all styles and forms. Find whoever is doing writing in your community, and make sure there's something in your festival for them. Try new things — just because you've never seen it in a writers' festival before, doesn't mean it can't start being in one now. And revel in the rich and varied bounty that writers serve up to humanity.


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