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bright young things (or, contemporary constraints on twenty-something writers)

taken from Marie Calloway's "Criticism"

The journalistic and self-effacing tone of burgeoning literary voices, particularly in the US, is beginning to impart a stigma on we writers of a certain criteria - young, and often, female.

Take Marie Calloway, who, mostly through her controversial piece Adrien Brody has been criticised as "a lazy boring writer who i know through a friend to be histrionic, predictably 'unpredictable' and most likely autistic".

again, from "Criticism"

Some of the debate that has arisen around writers such as Calloway has gotten me thinking about the expectations and, thus, the limitations of young writers, particularly of the female persuasion. More or less a direct result from brilliant minds and strong voices, such as Zadie Smith, Miranda July, etc., there is a preconception that any twenty-something female who decides to penn articles or stories will be inconceivably witty, well-read, insightful and idealist (that or ironically materialistic). (Thankfully, novelists in the YA genre seem to more or less give this a wide berth.)

As a society, we encourage girls and women to be emotionally accessible, and in touch with their feelings; we say that it’s an innately feminine trait. We say it, that is, until they have feelings that make us uncomfortable, at which point we recast them as melodramatic harpies, shrieking banshees, and basket cases. (credit)
Likewise, however, to Calloway, is our very own Kody Keplinger, who came under fire for The Duff: Designated Ugly Fat Friend. At times it wasn't the nature of the sex scenes themselves, but the subtext that readers felt undermined female empowerment and was teaching poor values to its younger audience. This whole scenario where our heroine sleeps with someone who she despises, and felts dirty afterwards, all to escape her problems. I can see where both sides of the DUFF spectrum are coming from, those who adore the wry tone and those who abhor the beliefs within it.

And, of course, along with this whole "thing" with female writers and writing about sex and etcetera, there's Fifty Shades of Grey. Given the sparse nature of my time as a whole, I haven't gotten around to perusing this, despite the fact that in one afternoon at the mall, I came across at least thirteen women strolling around with the book in their arms or peeking out of their handbags. "Mummy porn", Twilight fan-fiction (as evidenced here and here) - are some of the "names" I've heard this book called.

There have always been imitators whenever something explodes on the bestseller lists, which can even sell well despite its intention to ride a trend/emulate the originator - the kid immersed in a fantasy world as a result of Harry Potter, the fabulous supernatural boyfriend from Twilight, the big, dark government from The Hunger Games...Now, Fifty Shades of Grey isn't of the YA genre, but its comparisons to the Big Two do make you wonder about what may be expected of our writers, particularly when the notorious youths of now are gaining their notoriety through self-exposure and revealing pieces on their personal lives and bodies. 

Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you think there's a stigma on young female writers (not necessarily in the YA genre)? Do you think that poor writing we revere now will have any impact on the calibre of mainstream writers to come? What do you think about these young writers that have been criticised for "baring all" to get attention?

If you're intrigued by Calloway, here's some of her work.
(Beware, I'd steer clear if you're under 18 - very mature themes)
(Also, probably not safe for work. There is a strong image component to her work - it's kind of like blog posts, words and images)
on thought catalog
on muumuu house
on the rumpus
on vice

I'd also just like to make clear that I don't entirely support Marie Calloway. I thought that Adrien Brody had some merit to it, but overall, I do find her work quite uncomfortable to read, and at times, rather pointless and desensitised to the themes/context she's referring to. But, if you want to verse yourself in this type of writing, which is, disturbingly, gathering popularity in unpublishing, aspiring writers, I'd start with her and go from there.


  1. Zadie Smith said 'a writer's duty is to register what it is like for him or her to be in this world' and I believe it's completely right I mean especially with social media and Facebook and stuff cybersex and just posting every detail of their life is the norm. It's a curveball for those of us who grew up only a few years before this generation because we're expected to be as well versed as they are - but yeah I think it's unfair that young writers are expected to be witty and clever to be worthy of our time.

    1. I really like that quote! Zadie Smith can be so insightful sometimes! :) I think you're definitely onto something with social media - as a youngin', I am witness to post after post on Facebook about the absolute minute of details (If you've seen Easy A: "Roman is having an OK day and got a Coke Zero from the gas station. Raise the roof"). We're more in tune with what our generation is feeling and thinking, and so I suppose that we're more likely to think highly of someone who can put that in clever terms. I mean, look at the popularity of Juno.

  2. i blame jeremy lin tbh. srsly though, he's the leader of this whole crowd and just coz he's a decent writer and people value his opinion, he can promo these writers and people listen to them. but just coz you like jeremy's writing doesn't mean you're gonna like his taste right?

    i think marie calloway is vile. there is absolutely nothing redeemable in her writing. she runs a tumblr i mean honestly i run one and they're not real blogs. most of the time you're just reblogging some one else's opinion. but a lot of young writers are like that, like you said coz they really badly want attention so they'll copy what's popular now like twilight but i hope that 50 shades of grey stuff doesn't leak into the ya market.

    1. Completely agree with that Zadie Smith quote. A writer's work is their response to their surroundings, and I don't think you should judge the merit of what they have to share based on their blogging platform, Jessy. And haven't you heard that there is no such thing as an original idea anymore? Come on. Everyone cites inspirations and quotes people that have put things into context better than they could. Most writers just try put a new spin on stories that have been told over and over and over again.

      It's just sad because when we acknowledge books like 50 Shades of Grey we are telling the upcoming writers that it's okay to sacrifice good writing over a gimmick or a hook and that is really awful and we're going to see the result of that right through all the genres not just mainstream and Young Adult.

    2. @jessy
      You can't disregard the role of "mentors" like Jeremy Lin, and you make a good point that sometimes we assume that someone's voice and their taste are going to be "20/20", I suppose.

      But Annalynne is right in that you shouldn't judge a writer based on their platform. There is a lot of incredible work posted on tumblr - I have a tumblr, and I subscribe to a whole lot of them through Google Reader. For those who don't ramble like I do, it's microblogging and it can be really effective.

      I am definitely with you on that originality idea. Look at the tragic lovers. You've got Pyramus and Thisbe, Tristram and Isolde, Salim and Anarkali, Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Romeo and Juliet - hell! Alexandra and Nicholas II of Russia. And from these, all the respective cultures have spawned thousands of star-crossed lovers stories.

      The quality vs. quantity with literary accolades is a tired debate, and I think it's unfortunate, but it's always been around. I've always been a stickler for good writing, but I've encountered brilliant writing that has just been hurt by a poor hook or plot. And vice versa!

      Oh, and thanks guys for reading and commenting. :)

  3. Great post!

    As you know Nina, I started submitting my stories to online journals and magazines and it's really scary! I really feel that pressure to be "witty" and "insightful" and I'm just not like that. I have never had that great timing that people like you have on their blogs and on Twitter.

    It's unfair for there to be that expectation on younger writers and hopefully it won't phase any future great voices.

    Also I think this whole double standard with women's emotions is pretty bad in the young adult market. If you think about some of the books that are popular it's kind of disturbing. If you think about it, so many people spoke out against the themes in Twilight.

    Don't mind my rambling.

    1. Thanks Tabbie! Nice to see you made the trek over from tumblr hahah :)

      A lot of us feel that pressure, I think. I'm also so prepare to applaud any young writer who can create something wonderful and transcend those expectations. Just like we, and especially the Goodreads community, have been applauding any YA writer who can transcend the deeply ingrained themes of the last few years in the genre.

      Don't worry, you didn't ramble. ;)

  4. Interesting post and reader comments as well, particularly because I haven't heard of/read anything by Marie Calloway and some of the other examples you gave. I guess I'm not quite inside the literary criticism loop, and I don't know if that's good or bad...

    I think with literature, as with everything, there will always be double standards and ageist/sexist attitudes (at the very least there always has been. Maybe one day we'll get better but I don't see that happening easily) Additionally, criticism will typically differ since judging and critically evaluating text can provide very different results for different people. One person might enjoy, or find ironic or truthful, something which another criticises as unpleasant or unnecessary. I guess one thing to remember is that even if something popular gets a number of critical and negative responses, it's popular because some readers out there are enjoying it. A comment in the post said "that is what shitty-ass TV is for" and a point to be made in response to that is: well, no matter how brainless it is, people can be brainless and they like it. Are books automatically expected to be better than television like that which caters to whatever people enjoy?

    Even though we now have young, female and young female writers being able to publish and share their work, maybe we're still attached to the past where older males are favoured and their work considered more worthwhile. Would critics say the same things about some works if they didn't know the age or gender of the author?

    All I know is that I read for fun, and good writing combined with a good plot wins my favour, regardless of author XD

    1. Thanks Emma! I appreciate your input. :)

      I agree that people's standards and interests differ so incredibly that all forms of writing do tend to cater for the different aspects of the market. And I suppose "there's no such thing as bad press" is relevant, to some degree as well. I guess, Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight are relevant to this in particular, as they're popular books that were criticised greatly, but also enjoyed greatly.

      And to your point in response to the "shitty-ass TV" comment, I agree, and would add that we can't be on the ball all the time. Taking myself, for example - there are time that I can enjoy Dickens and Dostoyevsky, and times for high-brow postmodernism like Danielewski, but there is also a time for YA and a time for easy "aeroplane fodder". I can't stick to one calibre of storytelling all the time. Just like I watch The West Wing as much as I watch Game of Thrones, 2 Broke Girls and Being Lara Bingle.

      And I do think there's that preconception that books are "better" than television, and it's why there's always been that fight to try and get young boys and even teenage boys to read.

      You make a really interesting point about author gender and critics. At school, we are studying Gwen Harwood and her poetry, and she took on male pseudonyms and they would be published over her own work, and they would garner more praise than she did. Likewise, in the past, there's the Brontes, George Eliot, and in more modern times, JK Rowling and Nora Roberts (who went as JD Robb for a while). I agree with you that it's hard to see sexist, even ageist, attitudes bettering in the near future too.

      Anyway, sorry for the essay, hahah. :) Thanks for the response Emma, I really enjoyed reading your opinion.

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