Steve Almond posted this at the Rumpus recently:
Our job...is two-fold: to focus on our own failings as writers. But also to speak more forcefully as advocates for literature. Books are a powerful antidote for loneliness, for the moral purposelessness of the leisure class. It’s our job to convince the 95 percent of people who don’t read books, who instead medicate themselves in front of screens, that literary art isn’t some esoteric tradition, but a direct path to meaning, to an understanding of the terror that lives beneath our consumptive ennui. It’s hard to make this case, though, if all we do is squabble with each other and lament our obscurity.
He posted this in response to the death of Kevin Morrissey at the Virginia Quarterly Review, and while that loss is beyond tragic for so many reasons, what I would like to address here is Almond's notion of what our job as writers is.
So, then, let's consider what he says our job is: first, to "focus on our own failings as writers."
Take the plank out of your own manuscript before you point out the speck of dust in the rejecting editor's/agent's/workshop leader's/reader's eye. Or something like that. Focus on your own work. Blame no one but yourself for its weaknesses.
All right. I'm with him there.
Next, he says we should devote ourselves to "speak more forcefully as advocates of literature." We need to convince the majority who don't read, or who at least don't read literary fiction, of its value. And, I love what follows--how right he is about literature's ability to battle loneliness and the "moral purposelessness of the leisure class." A thousand yeses. I couldn't agree more.
A million yeses. Yes: let's show the world what good fiction can do. I'm so with him.
One question: how?
Readers, help. Any thoughts? Honestly, I'm asking: what can I do (or you do or any of us do) to get people to read more anything? And especially: how do we get them to read more literary fiction?
Or, should we even try? Is it our job, afterall, to both write fiction and try to get others to read fiction?