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.
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)
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.