Aggravated Teacher is Aggravated

Well, my journal WAS going to be cool links to help you with writing today. Instead, I’ve had to get grouchy.

One of the women on the creative writing scholarship we are setting up annoyed me today. The organization in Iowa that puts on science fiction conventions, the Mindbridge Foundation has generously agreed to fund one of the five scholarships, as long as the applicant is a speculative fiction writer. That’s what Mindbridge does–we have a mission to support speculative fiction in all its forms.

Enter Poet Woman. Poet Woman works part-time here at Kirkwood. She wrote an email that I would be remiss to reproduce, but essentially the implication is that spec fic writers are not as good as other writers, that they are not interested in learning what a “normal” writer is interested in learning, and that using the elements of spec fiction produce sub-standard work. The snobbish implication is that literary writing is somehow superior and less academic than good spec fiction.

Luckily, I do not believe that any of my other colleagues on this committee believe similarly, or as Mindbridge Board president, I’d suggest we take our offer of funding a scholarship back. Poet Woman asks if we will fund an inferior spec fiction writer over a better “literary” writer. The answer is no. I believe that there will be a good speculative fiction entry out there. If we don’t have a good speculative fiction candidate, we’ll hold the funds back.

At any rate, I present my letter to the committee. There is an attempt to educate, and I hope Poet Woman takes the time to expand her horizons and work with her misconceptions.

All:

I am going to cc my fellow Mindbridge Board members, so they know I’ve said on our organization’s behalf. Since I am the president of the board and attend the meetings, I can give you an insider’s view of what Mindbridge thinks.

Now to address some of Poet Woman’s concerns. Specifically

a. Since Mindbridge’s mission as an organization that furthers science fiction and fantasy in all venues, including education, I would discourage Mindbridge from spending the money for a non-speculative fiction candidate. The money would be awarded contingent upon a worthy candidate presenting themselves. We would not be interested in awarding a candidate who does not write speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, mythologically based fiction, retellings of faerie tales, etc), because that’s not what Mindbridge does. It that’s simple, really. Mindbridge would be more than happy to set up a long term English department scholarship to reward a genre fiction candidate, but what we must do is follow our organization’s mission.

b. Full Time Poet and I have talked about this issue. At the beginning levels, much of the information in any writing class is useful in any type of writing. I would be happy to work with a student in regard to the genre piece, and would expect to. Another candidate for helping a student like this would be Avid Science Fiction Reader, who is steeped in the genre as a reader. No teachers would be adrift, and consultations would be possible.

c. Poet Woman’s perceptions of what SF writers perceive are not necessarily true. If any of you would like to read venues where speculative fiction short stories of excellent quality are showcased, I would be happy to send you many, many links to many, many writers, some of whom solely write short speculative fiction. Many speculative writers are slower and contemplative as well. Off the cuff I recommend Octavia Butler, Nnedi Okarafor and Paolo Bacigalupi if you would like to educate yourselves. I don’t think anyone can draw the conclusion that speculative fiction writers are married to anything, given the variety of speculative fiction out there. Finally, you are likely to run into the novel/short story distinction with other writers as well, not just with genre writers.

And this section is more or less for Poet Woman: Why do you think that a serious speculative fiction writer can’t or won’t write in a different way? Why do you think that a serious speculative fiction writer doesn’t want to learn the same solid principles and practices as any other writer? Why do you seem to feel that the trappings of genre are more important to a speculative fiction writer than solid characterization, interesting setting, a plot that moves forward, and a host of other issues that concern all writers? Of course the components of a good story are what students should be graded on by any writing teacher whether they are writing genre fiction, or literary fiction (which has been classified as another genre by some theorists.) I assume that a genre student who hasn’t learned these lessons yet would not be someone we would be interested in awarding.

Why do you assume that one of the best candidates can’t be a speculative fiction writer? And what conflict of interest are you talking about?

I would invite you in to talk about these issues, if you like.

I would be interested to know what the rest of you think. If you agree with Poet Woman about the limitations of speculative fiction and that there cannot be a good speculative fiction candidate, maybe I should approach the Mindbridge board about doing something else with our monies rather than supporting this scholarship that follows Mindbridge’s organizational directives as outlined it the organization’s by-laws.

Both your colleague and the Mindbridge Board president,

Catherine

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

One thought on “Aggravated Teacher is Aggravated”

  1. There is so much going on here, that it’s a little difficult to separate the politics from the biases from the actual goals of each player.

    As to whether speculative fiction writers are weaker than genre authors, this is an argument that is ridiculous and easily disproven in multiple ways. Cormac McCarthy is a genre writer–You could easily say he writes westerns (and even science fiction with The Road). Is he weak? How about Margaret Atwood? Joyce Carol Oates? Kurt Vonnegut? At what point do the exceptions stop becoming exceptions and you just admit that the genre of SF is viable literary material?

    I’m not sure I understand the criticism that SF writers don’t use the same tools as literary authors or are not interested in writing in a literary way. What the heck does that mean? I think it is legitimate to say that there is a danger that an SF enthusiast would only be interested in writing within that genre, but that is a different criticism entirely. Even then that’s like saying Charles Dickens would have been a better writer if he had opened himself to writing about something other than urban familial strife.

    That said, this is ultimately about the goals of the school in providing these scholarships. What is that goal? Does it dovetail with the goal of Mindbridge? What specific criticisms are there about the Mindbridge scholarship conflicting with the school’s goal? If those criticisms simply come down to “SF writers suck,” then it is an indication of literary ignorance, plain and simple.

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