A bureaucratic system is incapable of critiquing itself. Like a living organism, its main purpose is to survive and grow. This holds true for the current system in the U.S. for producing official literature.
The failure of the system, and the current workshop model, can be seen in the American short story. One hundred years ago it was America’s most popular art form. Fifty-plus years of the workshop model have killed the art.
Why has readership of the short story dwindled? Look up past volumes of “Best” American stories collections and you’ll discover your answer. You could check the last four decades of such collections and be lucky to find a handful of stories that are fun to read—or memorable, as short stories once were memorable.
The opening of the standard literary story is designed to impress the reader with how well the writer can write. The stories are well written but they’re not entertaining. They’re certainly not fun. Is this a missed opportunity? Yes!—because the short story should be an entry into literature, toward longer, greater works—not a turnoff.
I’m approaching things differently. The first chapter of my new e-novel, due out in about a week, is written to be simple and accessible, thoroughly “pop,” so I can get the reader directly into the narrative. I save my better writing for later. The traditional novel opening, such as the beautiful beginning to “Gatsby,” or the famous opening to “Tale of Two Cities,” is fine and good. Except today there’s little time for dawdling, and very few writers are Dickens or Fitzgerald. None that I can spot.
Classic arts which survive as relevant parts of the culture do so through pop incarnations of their form. For instance, no one today walks around reciting the poetry of today’s academic crop of poets—whether John Ashbery or Jorie Graham—in the way the words of a Shakespeare or Kipling or Tennyson were once recited by ordinary members of the public. The public does know, though, the words to songs by pop artists, Bob Dylan being a notable example. Classical music composers have interested the general public over the past fifty years almost solely for their movie music—the music is forced to connect with the listener, instead of being monotonous atonal intellectualized university-spawned junk.
Novels are surviving today among the public because of popular versions containing vampires and wizards and such. My premise is that we can do better than that. We can produce novels which are readable and entertaining but also intelligent, relevant, and good.