State of English Literature

AL Kennedy sums up, as well as I’ve ever seen it summed up, the crisis in writing and publishing.

I have no idea what a new writer would do now – attempting to burrow into a market that’s in free fall and a literary ‘culture’ that drastically limits the numbers of books that are published or that will ever be visible in major bookshop chains, reviews or the media generally. Publishers are beyond risk-averse and are currently decision-averse. It is possible that published writers will no longer ever leave whatever other employment they use to subsidise themselves. Meanwhile, the increase in poorly conceived and exploitative creative writing courses will continue, and increasingly the writers who teach on them will end up training potential writers to teach other potential writers to teach on other courses and round and round they all will go – never knowing how good they might be, or what they’re missing.

Which isn’t what we deserve. There’s a place for courses and some of them are excellent – I wouldn’t, for example, be at Warwick if I didn’t believe in what they do there. But it can’t be that our literature relies on false promises and academia to limp along. Established writers surely can’t feel morally comfortable about helping new writers to commit themselves to the life while ignoring the fact that the chances of success, or even of publication, are minimal. And we can’t pretend that teaching writers to teach writing is meaningful, or anything close to our primary purpose.


One Response to “State of English Literature”

  1. Julia Smith Says:


    Here I am, working fingers to the bone on a first novel of such brilliance and poignancy it makes me weep to think of it, all in the certainty that none but my nearest and dearest will ever read it (and only then if I bribe them).

    Still at least it leaves me with a good excuse to drown the sorrows in whiskey. I’m a writer, see, we’re supposed to be drunks…

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