Friendly Genres

Lorraine Schein, Staff, Editorial Services – Communications Department

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In addition to thinking about how we write with or to friends, it is interesting to think about the various literary genres, and how some of them have merged in our time to become “friendlier” to one another.

The ancient Greeks and other cultures did not have a firm separation as we do today between narrative and poetry – realistic writing as we do.

Today literary forms that were once considered distinct in our culture are merging and creating new hybrids, such as prose-poems, flash fiction, and the personal essay.

Poetry can be seen as the wallflower at the genre party, but by making friends with prose, the more popular girl, its social status has gone up and it gets invited to many more events, and even gets a date to the prom. It became popular enough to be prom queen when it embraced its old pal, recitation, becoming performance poetry or “spoken word.”

Comic books, once seen as a low-brow form of writing, now have gained literary respectability as “graphic novels” because of the popularity of fantasy and science fiction. This once geeky guy loner with few friends at literary school, who got pushed around by the classics bully, is now one of the hot genres, with many admirers and friends, like a person with many friends and “likes” on Facebook.

Letter writing was one of the first forms of the English novel. In the 18th-century, Samuel Richardson wrote two of the earliest and most well-known epistolary novels, Pamela and Clarissa. But letter writing has been losing friendly practitioners for many years. Do children or adults even have pen pals anymore? Poor letter writing has now morphed into email, which is quicker, but has not yet produced a literary masterpiece or form to rival the novel. It is a genre gone electric and anorexic, but perhaps it can recover with medication and enough time to get to know its hip modern tech pal, email, and eventually surprise us with the hybrid that results from their collaboration. For now, though some experimental books have appeared that are collections of sent emails, the partnership has yet to produce a Moby Dick or Clarissa.

It’s fun to personify the different genres and imagine what they look like, and how their “friending” or “hooking up” with other genres changes them and has changed them in our time. As in our relationships with our best friends, the influence of other people in our lives changes us for the better, and as the years pass, sometimes creates something new and wonderful.

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