Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How Much Does Prestige Matter To Anyone Outside A Literary Community?

A Prestige-free Zone in Salon makes an argument that women writers dominate YA fiction (which may or may not be true) because "YA is a prestige-free zone, or at least it has been for most of the decades of its existence as a self-identified genre. Perhaps this is changing, now that we’ve seen certain very popular YA series bestride the bestseller lists: Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games. Yet I don’t think the prestige of YA has changed all that much, not really. Unfortunately, I can’t prove it."
Not what I'd call a powerful thesis statement.

I think that what the essayist, Laura Miller, might have been driving at is that historically women have gathered in low-prestige jobs that men didn't want. Nursing and teaching were low-prestige, poorly paid fields in the past, so men stayed clear of them, leaving them for women. Thus if there are a lot of women in YA literature, it must be because it's a low-prestige genre. That's why this might change "now that we’ve seen certain very popular YA series bestride the bestseller lists." If there's money to be made, the guys will want to make it, they'll come into YA and, bless 'em, give it prestige. Because, you know, they're guys.

I don't think she actually gave her piece much of a feminist spin, however. She dwelled more on literary prestige.

Here's the thing about literary prestige: Miller says, "There are prizes and other honors within the children’s book community, but they’re nearly invisible outside of it." Honey, literary prizes and honors within all book communities are nearly invisible outside them. There are communities for every kind of book. Their members know about the big selling and prize winning authors within that field. People outside those communities may never have even heard of the giants in them, unless they happen to run across an article about one of these people the week they die.

The most fascinating aspect of literary prestige is how very limited it is. That's not unique to children's literature.

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