We Demand Relevant American Literature sign now

Let's see a revived, relevant literature in America!

We the undersigned say: Open the doors of the literary system to independent voices!

America needs a healthy culture, with shared, sustainable values amid our diversity. We need to be able to explore who we are and where we are. To get this we need free and relevant literature.

Why literature? Literature has long been the best way for a society to see itself and its options. It hasn't been supplanted in this role. But it has abdicated it. Nothing has taken its place but segregation and exploitation. Ah-ha! There's a clue as to why this has happened: it's easier to make quick profits with weak literature. Perhaps some people don't understand the lead role of literature, maybe they think literature is like TV only slower. But literature isn't mere entertainment: it's how we can even possibly understand what entertainment means to us, and the rest of life as well. It gives us the biggest step back we can get.

Saving American literature means saving world literature. Local is global. Sure, writing can be provincial...but particulars become universal as art gets better.

Other countries aren't as ignorant about themselves as the USA, but the trouble we have here will spread to them soon. We're all in this together. The world is watching. In fact, folks from other parts of the world are more aware of America's dilemma than America is, being at least a small step removed.

We regular people of the worldcitizens, readers, writers and publishers alikesay that literature in America is in a slump and has been for decades. We want to revive or reinvent the hip-pocket revolution, a time when so many people from so many walks of life kept books around, to think about, books which helped them to live. These were books which crossed barriers of class, gender, race, creed, style.

We say that to achieve this new relevance that the powers that be need in particular to open up access to publication and review.

Even more particularly, we say that INDEPENDENT literature is today denied, prevented, ignored, shut out, laughed at. If a book doesn't come from an establishment publisher with a big ad budget and national distribution in place then it's not considered. Merit has no primary role today in the literary scene!

We petitioners say that every one of us might have a differing opinion and experience about how these changes should be made. But if we don't agree on anything else, we want the return of relevant writing! We are united in this demand, just as we are united in our independence before the independent page.

That's not all. We say that the current literary system got us into this mess.

What are the problems of this system? We say that: *It relies on the MFA degree network and the idea that writing can be taught, in top-down fashion, by erstwhile writers posing as teachersthe "10,000 sneering college writing instructors" who Kerouac had to deal with. *We note that a formal system can train students in craft in order to mimic style, polish and clevernessbut depth and relevance can never be the result. *The emphasis on degrees and grants results in a destructive attempt to professionalize and "guildify" an artform, resulting in a narrow, inward approach to the art and a reliance on marketing and legal strategy instead of merit. *The system relies on universities, grants and Hollywood screenwriting to pay the bills, not readers reading in libraries or buying books and magazines from shops. *The system relies on New York City to guide it, even though NYC is out of touch. *It relies on the niche concept, which has turned even the biggest general literature into just another genre, a sideline hobby for segregated interest groups and ever-fewer readers.

Admittedly, these features have their pro's as well as their con's. They have a place, just not the main one.

Let's not forget that if literature is stalled the rest of the arts suffer. Independent film and music have had highpoints recently. Literature is next! But while it is kept down the other indy arts will lose momentum.

So, we say to look openly at writing that is not MFA-oriented, not NYC-oriented, not nichified, not created primarily to satisfy professional standards.

That is, we say to look at writing that comes from the street, from the underground, from the people, from the hinterlands, from the heart, from direct experience that people can relate to.

The wonderful thing is that freedom-loving writing is already out there. Whenever it breaks out of its bonds, it changes the nation. And the world. We are so close to the next breakthrough!

Amateurism might be considered a way out. It has given vitality to many fields and artforms where creators pay their bills by other work. Reliance on amateurism is, of course, a sign of poverty in an art, but even this solution has been prevented from helping literature by today's careerism. An amateur cabinetmaker's work gets juried; an amateur writer outside the system has no hope.

Recently, liberated writing flourished in the world of zeens (zines), which came to world attention in the 1990's and continues today. Zeensters publish as they please and distribute it themselves, interacting with whoever responds. These writers come from the street and learn the ropes of creating work that matters, without anyone bossing them. Some move from tiny scenes to somewhat wider notice. Zeensters rise up on their merits, unmediated and unfiltered, asking no permission of anyone. The system still laughs at and undervalues this resource. We say, Don't neglect it!

Since the 1990's the Internet has come to dominate a still-nebulous part of our culture. There's a huge noise-to-signal ratio as new ways pop up of telling zippy storylets to those with short attention spans. Those who write the cleverest about the smallest rise to the unpaid top of geeky blogdom, something that means we're not sure what. We ask, How best to explore it?

Many others have already declared much of the aboveby themselves, weak and unheard. Groups have even formed to discuss these thingsin small circles. Only one group has come together giving a LOUD voice to these concerns, promoting anyone who steps up to help literature: the ULA. The Underground Literary Alliance formed in 2000 (literaryrevolution.com) as a way for the unheard to be heard. It's a loose-knit group of individuals from around the world (many of them longtime zeensters, underground artists and fans) who rally around the idea of relevant literature and who join their voices when they want amplification. The ULA is tiny and far-flung, with no resources. It's composed of advocates and activists of independent styles and views, often conflicting. When they see notice of a project or action they can agree on that's when they raise their voices together. Without their rallying cry and noisemaking none of these concerns and new voices would've seen the light of day with any impact. The ULA has gotten dozens of major media notices for its actions and exposes to date. We hereby give kudos to efforts like these. Even where we might disagree with them, we at least support the cause. And we say we want to see more done for this causethat of a relevant and independent literature.

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Beatrice BrooksBy:
Transport and infrastructureIn:
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Literary People and Readers of the World

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