Genre vs. Literary

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Colson Whitehead's new novel is a zombie story. Whitehead is, of course, a favorite around these parts. Here he is looking at the import of high/low collaborations:


What do "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction mean to you? Are these terms helpful to you as a writer, or are they just methods of bookstore organization? 

They don't mean anything to me. They're useful for bookstores, obviously. They're useful for fans. You can figure out what's coming out in the same style of other books you like. But as a writer they have no use for me in my day-to-day work experience. I was inspired to become a writer by horror movies and science fiction. The fantastic effects of magic realism, Garcia Marquez, the crazy, absurd landscapes of Beckett--to me, they're just variations on the fantasy books I grew up on. Waiting for Godot takes place on a weird asteroid heading towards the sun, that's how I see it. It's not a real place--it's a fantastic place. So what makes it different from a small planet in outer space? What makes it different from a post-apocalyptic landscape? Not much in my mind.

This notion has always been bizarre to me, and as Whitehead notes, seems more useful for commerce than creation. Art comes from actual humans in actual places. I've never seen much use in pulling influence from F. Scott Fitzgerald at the expense of Bruce Timm. It just never made much sense to me.

See Joe Fassler's piece on Zombies and Superheroes overrunning the canon, for more.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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