Above: Greg McKillop
In the last month or so, I have had a couple encounters with Boston’s literary culture.
The first—and altogether more inspiring—took place in my basement. With the help of a couple friends, more than two-dozen kids came to read and hear poetry in what was quite possibly some kind of cosmic karma for that time in 5th grade when I had a birthday party and nobody came.
This heartwarming experience came a few days before I participated in a roundtable of published persons, which was organized by a member of my university’s writing department. Many of my fellow roundtable members had MFAs, and most, if not all, had been published in literary journals. It was a textbook example of what I labeled the “aristocratic literary culture.”
What I mean by “aristocratic” is that the culture this roundtable was reflecting is selective and privileged.
I think back to a flyer I saw at the Boston Book Festival for The Writer’s Room, where, if your work is deemed suitable, you pay $300-$350 per quarter to have access to a quiet writing space. This is indicative of a larger attitude in the mainstream literary community— that you have to a) prove yourself by getting published and b) have the means to be a Writer with a capital W. Poor and inexperienced need not apply.
The fact that these things exist—literary journals, MFA programs, The Writer’s Room—doesn’t really bother me. I myself am an editor of a literary magazine, and it’s something that I really love to do. But that channel of publishing is going to have to learn to share its position in the literary community. Soon, self-publishing will match and overtake the previously singular form of publishing (submit, accept/reject, publish/shred).
Before the invention of the typewriter, the operators of printing presses had unique control over what did and did not get published. That control was then allocated to publishing houses, and while there are still large numbers of independent presses, large publishers still have a hold on what the masses see. There are a relatively small handful of people who decide what gets to be read.
Enter alt lit, festering in a Tumblog near you.
The Millennial generation has found a way around the “aristocratic literary culture,” and obviously it’s on the Internet. These are young people who are enthusiastic about creation, about art and about writing, and who are going to do it even if they aren’t getting a book deal.
And the beauty of the reblog is that it’s all of us who decide what gets around. The power is in our hands, not in the hands of any kind of media conglomerate.
“As alt lit grows larger,” says Beach Sloth, a member of the alt lit community, “taking up new spaces, new continents, countries, and cities it’ll continue to expand focus. More voices means new perspectives. This is a good thing. This will continue to happen until alt lit becomes simply ‘lit.’”
It’s time that we claim our space IRL. We need spaces, physical, not just cyber, that are our own, where we need not feel the weight of formal traditions. We need safer, freer, expressive spaces.
And we’ll get them, even if we have to make them ourselves.
THERE IS ANOTHER SKY: POETRY OPEN MIC