The Foolish Endeavor Called Genre Elitism

It was the spring of 2016. I was halfway through my English undergraduate, when I met a well-meaning, but close-minded creative writing professor.

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It was the spring of 2016—ancient history, I know—I was halfway through my English undergraduate with Creative Writing as my minor. I’d dabbled in poetry, flash-fiction, even non-fiction as per the courses required of me. But I never lost sight of my first love: fantasy. If not for class, I wrote it just because I wanted to. However, there was always a disconnect between myself and my main creative writing professor. A patron of creative nonfiction, she saw writing as a means to relay shared experiences–and nothing else.

The best way to illustrate this is to paraphrase the single most memorable lesson my professor ever taught: “If you want to write about apples, you must have eaten an apple before. But not a supermarket apple, that doesn’t count. You need to go out into the countryside, find an apple orchard, pick the wild “true” apples yourself, then eat one. Taste it; savor it; smell it; be it! Only then can you truly relay the experience.”

Amazing, I thought. Now when I write “Bob ate an apple”, I can touch the heart and soul of a generation. This is hyperbole, of course. The true goal was devoting an entire poem or short story to the taste, texture, and smell of apples. So, not only did my professor only care about “real” experiences, but she also only cared about certain types of writing.

The Human Experience. Laughing, crying; triumphing, failing; and above all, struggling in the beautiful chaos that is life itself. This is a writer’s goal; what they most wish to impart, represent, or perhaps confront through their work. And this is what my professor was trying to teach us. “Writers want their readers to feel, and that is best done through relaying real-world experiences.” It makes sense if all you want to do is write nonfiction. But don’t you want to explore something more exciting than apples? Who says the so-called human condition cannot be represented through fiction–through the make-believe struggles of characters?

Let me make something perfectly clear. Whatever you wish to call it–creative nonfiction, dramatic realism–“real” and “raw” stories still deserve to exist. I would just rather read and/or write literally anything else, and take exception to the assertion that it is the only sort of writing with any meaning.

Call me an alien, but everyday life is either boring or painful. That is precisely why I read and write: to escape the boring, painful place. My chosen genre, fantasy, takes you to entirely new worlds filled with sights so wonderful you momentarily forget your troubles. Or, if you crave action, fantasy answers with realm-crippling curses, massive battles, and even political drama.

The best part about all of this is that no one has to agree with me. Book culture is full of so many genres, and everyone is completely free to choose whichever one they want. Do you like thrillers? What about mysteries, or romances? If you’re a writer, how do you prefer to write? Flashback or linear narrative? First, second, or third person? Read, and write the things you love. But please, for the love of God, don’t get caught up in your own version of the apples.