Monday, August 09, 2010

America’s Most Overrated Writers

Who are America’s most overrated writers? Houston-based author, poet and critic, Anis Shivani, attempts to set us straight in an essay for the Huffington Post. His list will surprise a lot of people, as it includes some of the very top names in contemporary American literature including Amy Tan, Junot Diaz, Jjumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Safran Foer and William T. Vollmann who gets singled out for special treatment. In all, 15 of America’s best known voices make Shivani’s personal overrated writers list.

While the list is obviously and of necessity a subjective one, Shivani’s essay asks some interesting questions and raises some thought-provoking points, even if not all of it holds water:
Are the writers receiving the major awards and official recognition really the best writers today? Or are they overrated mediocrities with little claim to recognition by posterity? The question is harder than ever to answer today, yet it is a worthwhile exercise to attempt (along with identifying underrated writers not favored by bureaucracy).
Shivani posits that there are many facets to this mystery, one of them being that it may no longer even be possiblefor us mere mortals to tell the difference between writing that is good and other types. To that end he sets out to set us straight:
Bad writing is characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance. Good writing is exactly the opposite. Bad writing draws attention to the writer himself. These writers have betrayed the legacy of modernism, not to mention postmodernism. They are uneasy with mortality. On the great issues of the day they are silent (especially when they seem to address them, like William T. Vollmann). They desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded. They are the unreadable Booth Tarkingtons, Joseph Hergesheimers, and John Herseys of our time, earnestly bringing up the rear.
It’s difficult not to think that at least some of this is sour grapes. After all, Shivani’s single venture into book-length publication -- an ambitious collection of short stories which publisher Black Lawrence Press says “addresses the limitations of prevalent models of multiculturalism under conditions of stress,” was largely ignored when it was released late in October 2009. And it may well be a marvelous, even earth-shatteringly good collection but, even so, few people would have reason to know that as the book was given a limited push. Which, when you think about it, more or less makes this author’s point. In any case, Shivani’s HuffPost piece is thought-provoking and it’s here.


OpenID poemshape said...

Yours is one of the more neutral references to this article. Whether or not Shivani's comments were prompted by "sour grapes", the grapes may, in fact, be sour. :-)

The commentary (not just at Huffpost) is what's *really* interesting. Shivani's post is almost like a Rorschach test.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 7:05:00 AM PDT  

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