December 2, 2009

"A Huge Untapped Market for Experimental Literary Fiction"

"There is no way you can send a fierce, exotic and brutally truthful hothead novel out into the British rain in a recession and expect a deal to be on the table with the scones, tea and Daily Mail. Editors are struggling with a toxic, cynical market of celebrity best sellers and even the braver ones are nervous. Contemporary readers are much more sophisticated than the whole mainstream publishing scene right now. There is a big counter-culture in the UK but it's in the visual arts, music and performance, not in literature. There is a huge untapped market for experimental literary fiction. I know this because I am invited to give readings of my own writing more or less every night of the week, some of which I take up, others I don't. My website is crammed with writers asking me to read their work - also students studying my own work and asking me how the hell to get hold of it. There is a big old-fashioned question to be asked here - to do with what books are for, and why we bother publishing, writing and reading them in the first place. It's likely that corporate publishing will eventually go the same ways as the banking system: it has lost it with new generations of would-be readers. Not so much a financial crisis as a demise of experiment - publishers do have to take risks that might make them vulnerable - that's the currency I'm talking about here."

In an interview at the NY Times 'Paper Cuts' blog, Alexander Hemon says the following about editing Dalkey Archive Press' Best European Fiction 2010:

Q. What was the biggest surprise for you, editing the collection?

A. It was less of a surprise than a reminder: how unabashedly comfortable many of the writers are to engage with literary forms that would be perceived as experimental or avant-garde here. In turn, I was reminded how deeply conservative contemporary American literature is in terms of form. And that conservative bent is a recent development, I believe. The European form flexibility is not a consequence of some snotty, elitist aesthetic but rather of the fact that there are many stories to be told and many traditions to draw from.

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