Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Summer's debut and the youth fetish

Rio del Mar was stunning yesterday. There was a broad swath of beach to walk on, which I did for two hours with my friend Stacey and her sweet yellow lab who ambled along happily off-leash.

We talked about life and writing. We're both working on novels. Technically I'm her MFA thesis advisor, but we knew each other as writers and friends before she entered our MFA program.

We are both women who finally committed ourselves to this writing life in our 40s. We talked about how years of writing "practice" and living have made it possible for us to write what we are now writing.

The publishing world's focus on the "debut" (ugh, hate the snooty connotation of that word) novel of the young star is grating on me. I can't count how many supposed-to-be-brilliant "debut" novels I've checked out of the library, only to give up on the book after a 30 or 40 pages. The hype is obvious and grotesque. How many bios of seasoned writers begin with: X was born in 1948? But these young 'uns bios always begin: David Baby Author was born in 1982. (Why do these young authors always have two last names?)

Our society's youth fetish is not limited to pop culture. It permeates even the supposedly rich and complex world of the literary novel.

Most of the books that have meant a lot to me have been written by not only middle-aged people but old people (such as May Sarton, who wrote amazing books into her 70s and 80s).

Even though I'll never be a young debut novelist, I'm in no rush. As Stacey and I walked along the broad band of sand, we talked about the decades of our 40s, 50s, 60s--and if we're lucky, beyond--being time that will be filled with the richness of living and writing.


Isaiah Vianese said...

This was a great post, Kate.

And, I understand the pressure placed on young writers to publish, publish, publish. Even I, who have not quite crossed the threshold of my 21st birthday, feel the pressure to send work to journals incessantly, and keep refining my first book manuscript because "I can never start too young."

But, I agree. We all must take life one line at a time: work hard, love the writing (and the living), and just hope for the best.

Montgomery Maxton said...

i do not send out work just because im 27 years 11 months old. :)

Collin Kelley said...

According to Dorothy Allison, even the hotshot debut novelist is starting to get short shrift because all the major publishers are too scared to take a chance on books these days. This used to burn me up, too, but now I'm just getting on with the writing.

Kate Evans said...

To the young uns: You guys have so many years and so much energy! :)

Collin: Getting on the with the writing is always the best advice!