Ursula Le Guin and Molly Gloss were two of the keynote speakers at last week’s conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. I’d never been to the conference before, but I couldn’t help but be surprised; there is a fairly common—and justified—defensiveness among SFF readers and writers when it comes to the mainstream literary world, whether due to its cooption of writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Angela Carter, or to its perpetuation of the high art/low art divide. Or, if you’re like my friends and me, you’ve been in college or even MFA classes that bar genre fiction entirely, that compare your work to Twilight, and that generally conflate genre with formula, heavy-handedness, and as Brook Wonders phrased it, a lack of “aesthetic ambition.”
The program for AWP, though, was pretty great. In addition to Le Guin and Gloss, there were numerous panels and readings dedicated to—or at least in the realm of—speculative fiction. More vital than that, though, was the ongoing conversation about genre that I encountered there. Not every dialogue was successful, and still more tended towards semantic nuance, but they were happening and they were easy and pleasing to find. MFA culture, if not the literary landscape at large, seems to slowly and surely be easing into a more diverse range of concepts and content.