My program holds/attends/participates in a metric ton of literary readings, and I’ve begun to notice a trend, especially in those readings sponsored by the department. A first-year admitted for fiction read his Langston Hughes-esque poetry riffs. A second-year guy who got in for poetry read a prose piece, about miscarriage and parrots (although I finally got to hear him read his poetry at an off-campus lit mag reading last night, and it was awesome. He said fuck a lot. Also, the poem was about fucking koalas). I just submitted my very first short piece to a department reading, a competitive match between us and the Art Institute of Chicago. Admitted for nonfiction, and what did I submit? A genre piece, science-fiction. I don’t care if it gets rejected because reading it in front of my peers and professor is such a bad idea to begin with.
So, why this trend? Is it saying “fuck you” sweetly to the wonderful people who accepted us only to pigeonhole us by doing so? I do love that all the PhDers habitually crossgenre. I didn’t mean to say fuck you, but I fear that’s how it will be read by my profs. My nonfiction’s all long form, though. Only my short fiction meets the time requirement, and my short fiction? Is all speculative.
The kinder gentler version is that we want to read aloud our experimental work, the work we’re least comfortable with, because that’s the work that benefits from an audience reaction. But that’s never the way it’s pitched, and that’s not how I feel about my submission. It’s not my best work, but it’s work I’m proud of, work that pushes the boundary of what I’ve been doing toward something better. My best work, the stuff got me in, is artfully boring to me now. The new is shiny, even if it’s unpolished rock.
I submitted the existential crisis of robot piece. And if it does get selected, I will read it aloud with my head held high. Because speculative’s what I do, what I read, what I love, just as much as memoir, and I’m not going to feel badly about that fact.