Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature today which has enraged some people as he’s technically never written a novel. I guess. I haven’t looked that much into it. The selection committee determined that his hundreds of songs qualified as poetry and were impressive and important enough to warrant commendation.
This reminds me of a line in the film End of the Tour which is about Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky following novelist David Foster Wallace on his book tour for Infinite Jest. When Lipsky pitches his idea for the article his editor tells him “Rolling Stone doesn’t interview writers.” and I remember thinking “Okay, I guess tell that to all the singer-songWRITERS you’ve interviewed over the years.”
When did we decide that the only serious writers were novelists? If pressed I’d have to say my five favorite writers working right now are Lin-Manuel Miranda, Shea Serrano, Megan Amram, Ed Brubaker, and Mallory Ortberg. A few of them have published books but they definitely aren’t considered novelists. I don’t read a lot of novels (although I did make and effort this summer to read a few more) but I’m on twitter every day. I follow a half-dozen entertainment news sites for reviews, recaps, and articles. And I watch a lot of movies and television. All of which has to be written by someone.
I spoke with a friend recently about writing and he asked me how often do I write. In truth, I write something every day. I’m constantly writing. But how often do I finish something and send it off into the world? Much less frequently. I identify as a writer and invariably someone always wants to know “What kind?” and then I have to take them though a tale of my education and my ambitions in my chosen field and on and on. It’s exhausting although I understand the interest. The truth is, I haven’t quite figured out what kind of writer I want to be yet. I doubt I’ll ever write a novel but who knows? I love theatre and television and that’s where I’m focusing my interest at the moment.
There’s a great scene in one of my favorite movies, Igby Goes Down (written by Burr Steers), that I think sums up my experience.
Russell (played by Jared Harris) and Igby (Kieran Culkin) have just been introduced by Rachel (Amanda Peet) who described Russell as “a brilliant artist.”
Igby: So, you’re an artist? What kind of art?
Russell: What do you mean, “What kind of art?”
Igby: I mean… do you paint.. or..
Russell: I got what you meant, but you obviously didn’t get what I meant. An artist creates art regardless of what form the canvas takes.
It’s meant to be funny, to show Russell and Rachel as the pretentious neo-bohemian West Villagers they are, but the line has always stuck with me.
An artist creates art regardless of what form the canvas takes.
Think about that the next time you wonder out loud “what kind” of writer someone is.