Stephen King given National Medal of Arts

Stephen King given National Medal of Arts

One of the defining characteristics of being a geek, and I’ve been a proud geek for a long time, is being an outsider.

Geeks aren’t supposed to be the cool kids, and even more definitely, they shouldn’t be recognized for creating and enjoying “high brow”, quality art.

Let me be clear: I don’t mean to say that’s the right attitude, but it’s what we used to think people think.

Of course, it’s never really been true.

Those authors who undeniably are considered to be the “classic” authors have often created geek-friendly works.

Shakespeare? Fairies, ghosts, and witches.

Dickens? The work people know best well and has been most parodied (including by me…A Kindle Carol) is a ghost story…with time travel.

Jack London? Post-apocalyptic fiction (The post-apocalyptic fiction of…) and past life cave people  (Before Adam).

However, the literati who look down their noses at books with spaceships and telepathy could always say that those were not the main works of these authors.

It would be very hard to make an argument that Stephen King (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) is not first and foremost a genre author.

That’s why it feels like a milestone in geeks getting respect that the horror author was given a National Medal of Arts yesterday by the President.

National Endowment for the Arts official page

The citation reads:

“Stephen King for his contributions as an author. One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time, Mr. King combines his remarkable storytelling with his sharp analysis of human nature.  For decades, his works of horror, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy have terrified and delighted audiences around the world. (Bangor, ME)”

Looking back through a list of the recipients, I didn’t see a lot of people who would be found primarily in the science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror sections of a bookstore:

  • Ralph Ellison
  • Eudora Welty
  • Howard Nemerov
  • Robert Penn Warren
  • Saul Bellow
  • Czelaw Milosz
  • John Updike
  • William Styron
  • Maurice Sendak (yes, geek-friendly…although putative children’s books feel like they have more latitude to employ fantasy elements and still be respected)
  • Philip Roth
  • Maya Angelou
  • Ray Bradbury (so King’s award is not unprecedented for a primarily genre author)
  • Rudolfo Anaya
  • Beverly Cleary
  • Stan Lee (absolutely, undeniably geek friendly…one of the icons. The award, though, wasn’t really for prose writing)
  • Louis Auchincloss
  • N. Scott Momaday
  • Ernest Gaines
  • Tobias Wolff (also awarded this year, the same as Stephen King)

I think

Stephen King’s

The Stand (at AmazonSmile*)

has a legitimate case for being the “great American novel”…but I don’t expect the President and the National Endowment for the Arts to think so.  ;)

That certainly may just show my own prejudice. I grew up with it being a matter of social shame to be a geek.

That’s not the case now.

Look at the top grossing movies, the most popular televisions shows…undeniably, mainstream audience grok the geek.

In those visual media fields, respected awards have been coming more and more to geek-friendly works and artists. Oscar winners feel no concern about appearing in a fantasy/science fiction/horror movie (or, even more shocking, TV show) these days.

However, for the types of people who would even sneer at the idea of watching a video, to recognize the authors of books with vampires and robots? That feels new.

I wouldn’t say that we are entirely there…and, I’m not convinced that geeks really want to be there.

What do you think? Is there still a stigma in being a “genre author”? When I say “genre”, do you think geeky, or do you include romance and Westerns, among others? Are works with fantasy/science fiction elements inherently less “honorable” than works with more realistic settings? If you think that the acceptability has changed, why do you think that is? Is it just the popularity? Should that influence merit awards? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

9 Responses to “Stephen King given National Medal of Arts”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Don’t forget the women and children! For Eudora Welty might I suggest “The Robber Bridegroom”? Pure southern gothic meets Greek mythology meets the brothers Grimm! Available to read for free from Kindle Unlimited. And Beverly Cleary’s book “Emily’s Runaway Imagination” though not sci-fi or traditional fantasy is about a young girl who is often accused of letting her imagination run away with her. She dreams of having the luxury of a library for her small town. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Amy Farrah Fowler has both of those books as well as the whole Romona Quimby series somewhere in her book collection. Even if she doesn’t, I do, and I proudly claim the title of female geek!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Oh, I never forget the women and children…after all, I was or am at least one of those.😉

      Even given those two examples, I wouldn’t think of either Beverly Cleary or Eudora Welty as primarily a science fiction/fantasy/horror author. Many authors have written some geek-friendly works, and I think that may be becoming more common. I’ve added The Robber Bridegroom to my KU Wish List…thanks for the recommendation!

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        I suppose Beverly Cleary is more of a stretch than Eudora Welty, but still her children’s books appeal to the little ones who don’t quite fit in, who aren’t perfect, who see the world in their own unique ways. The Southern Gothic genre is not so much in the same “horror” style as British and European Gothic, but it usually features characters who are outsiders, slightly damaged. Eudora Welty didn’t consider herself a southern gothic writer, but most readers do. I think there is more to geekdom than sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, though I agree it’s frustrating when so much of it gets overlooked for recognition or awards. Star Trek had brilliant writing and outstanding acting, but when it came to awards time, it seems as if the judges were only looking at special effects and costumes. Stephen King was on Colbert’s show last night. They featured all his books in a tall stack. I was thinking how a stack of books like that was much more impressive than a collection on a Kindle!

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        I think we may be approaching this with a different definition of “geek friendly” or “geeks” generally.

        It sounds like you are defining it as misfits and outsiders.

        When I use it in terms of fictional works, I mean that it has an element of fantasy (although many science fiction fans don’t like that term for “their” genre.

        For me, it requires that what is presented to the reader appears to be impossible in current consensus reality. That may be because it has magic in it, or that it has technology which doesn’t (at this time) exist (and hasn’t, to our knowledge, existed in the past), for example. It needs to be labeled as fiction as well, of course.😉

        I include works where we (the audience) first believe it is something “supernatural” and it turns out to be a fraud. If Scooby Doo didn’t have an impossible dog, it would still count for me.

        I haven’t read Eudora Welty, but I will now through KU (thanks to you). Maybe it’s that I associate Welty with the non-fantasy work, because that’s what has been rewarded more? Is there fantasy in The Optimist’s Daughter?

        Certainly, Ralph S. Mouse counts for Beverly Cleary…but I think more of Ramona and Henry Huggins.

        Shockingly, Leonard Nimoy actually did get three Emmy nominations for Spock.

        As to the stack of books…well, having a pyramid in your back yard would be impressive, too😉

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        There’s a current of supernatural that runs through much Southern Gothic literature. Think of “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner.

  2. Amy Says:

    I appreciate the complex discussion of science fiction genres that you and Lady Galaxy are having. As someone who studies genre theory, I am a firm believer that every writer is a “genre writer.” Even if the writer has to work against a genre or outside a genre, the genre influences the writer and shapes the text. And your discussion shows how varied any work is in a genre. So I’m not a fan of the term “genre fiction” because it implies that other works of fiction are somehow apart from genres. Besides, people (not you, of course) usually use the term to denigrate that fiction as genre fiction.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thank for writing, Amy!

      What a fascinating field of study! I could see taking a year of a course on that.🙂

      As you note, genre fiction is not an insult for me. It suggests that it follows certain rules (often unspoken) as a group of other novels. It can be harder to write within rules than outside of them…which should, hypothetically, make them of more value.😉 Yes, if someone uses those rules instead of writing well, that could make it worse…but writing that excels in a genre is more impressive to me than excellent writing in the “genre” of modern literature.

  3. Content, tone, or intent: what makes a genre? | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Stephen King given National Medal of Arts […]

  4. The Year Ahead: 2016 | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] I had an intuition that we might see something big with Stephen King, including “…could be something personal, although we’ll know about it”. That did happen: Stephen King given National Medal of Arts […]

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