R&R Focus: The Challenge Of Avoiding Literary Insularity

Every exercise routine gets to a point where it gets old. You hit the plateau stage and in order to continue to build muscle, loose weight, ect., you must change up your workout to include some things that basically catch your body off guard. Sometimes it's not fun, sometimes it hurts, but in the long run challenging yourself and trying something new is vital to continual growth and improvement.

As a writer, it can be extremely easy to hit a mental plateau. We are bombarded with so much to read, share, and be aware of and it can definitely be overwhelming. Something that motivates me is a quote from Nobel literature judge Horace Engdahl that he said not long before the recipient for the 2008 award for literature was announced:

The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature," Engdahl said. "That ignorance is restraining.

[Breitbart, September 30, 2008]

That really hurt when I read it the first time. Of course most writers from all over the world dream of being chosen for the highest accolade in literature from the time they first put pen to paper. And yet, here is a permanent judge for the prestigious award saying that American writers and too caught up with American culture to even begin to create anything worthy of the award. At first, like many of the American literature experts that challenged Engdahl to expand his reading list, I immediately took offense at what came off as a very presumptuous and snobby statement. But then at the same time, I knew that even if what Engdahl said wasn't true about some writers, it could certainly be said for many, including myself. American culture does have a rather annoying habit of choosing certain themes/fads and milking them until they're bone dry. Everytime something has abounding success, expect for there to be mimic after mimic after redundant mimic.

I've always felt that when it comes to careers in the creative fields, there really isn't such a thing as true competition. No one can tell your story and even if someone has a similar story, no one can tell it like you. Engdahl's quote has stuck in the back of my mind all this time because it reminds me that when I write something, I need to make sure that it has a universal quality about it. We have to stay aware of the fact that they way we live is not the only way people live and if we write as though we are oblivious to that our literature will come off as simplistic and self absorbed. Here's a list of Nobel Literature winnersthat dates back to 1901. I know it's a lofty goal, but I intend to read something by most if not all of the authors on this list. I've already read Toni Morrison, so that's one down.