This week, I am grateful to frequent DGLM blog commenter Wanda B. Ontheshelves, who wondered if I might comment on Laura Miller’s essay in Salon on MFA programs and the debates they inspire. As it happens, I’m all for MFA programs. Are they the only route toward publishing literary fiction? No. Are they useful? You bet. Like Miller, I’ll support anything that supports writers, and MFA programs surely do this. Not only do they allow aspiring writers time and space to work, the faculty positions keep many a published author financially afloat.
In any case, the alleged problem of “cookie cutter fiction” issuing forth from MFA programs strikes me as less lamentable than the ever-growing tide of celebrity books. Last week I happened to catch WNYC’s Leonard Lopate interviewing actor Rob Lowe about his recently published memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. With apologies to fans of The West Wing and St. Elmo’s Fire, I was underwhelmed. Maybe it was the traffic, but just for a moment, I wanted to beat my head–ever so gently–against the steering wheel. Not so much because Rob Lowe is so especially abhorrent. His tone was self-congratulatory, but affably so. And in fairness I must add that not only have I not read his book, the reviews I’ve seen have been positive, even glowing. All take pains to note that Lowe penned the book himself, without help. Indeed, the degree to which Lopate and assorted others have marveled at his not working with a ghost-writer was just a teensy bit insulting.
So what’s my problem? Celebrity authors are nothing new (here’s Lauren’s take, a few months back) and as far as publishing houses are concerned, finding an author who has a name is certainly easier and less of a gamble than making one, but I feel like the VIP Lounge here in bookworld grows increasingly and uncomfortably crowded. As all of you will have surely noted, the film and television stars of decades past have gone onto second careers as authors, and if there is something somewhat cookie cutter-ish about their stories of transgression/redemption, the price of fame and the struggle for authenticity, it’s not because they enrolled in MFA programs.
What do you think? Am I just being cranky? Or does it seem to you that the celebrity driven nonfiction is an ever-growing slice of the publishing pie?
I wonder if this is actually true. Perhaps this week I’ll try and find out and report back.