This weekend at THATCamp BSU, the first keynote, William Nericco, a professor from San Diego State University, opened with Robotic, Erotic, Electric, a talk based on the name of his 220 Literature course. He doesn’t teach “traditionally,” but rather incorporates science fiction, graphic novels, and film into the curriculum right next to classic literature, including Shakespeare, one of my personal favorites. The syllabus is certainly a robust one, filled with significant assignments and a demanding workload.
This got me thinking about my own education as an author. It started formally, inside a Christian school with a very traditional curriculum. “Literature” was strictly defined, and much of what I wanted to read outside the classroom was not only outside that definition, but not “approved.”
But my world expanded, starting at the library. Asimov, Heinlein, Piers Anthony, Ben Bova, and dozens of others inspired my imagination. Although I loved, and still love Shakespeare, these rogue stories were just as compelling. To me, these were equally important works of literature, and there are few today who would not classify much of it as at least “classic” fiction.
Even then, and more since new ways of telling stories were evolving. Comic books went from mainstream to overlooked, back to the mainstream and even the big screen. With the introduction of cable television and the VCR, movies we could watch at home became more common. Role-Playing Games went from just board games to digital formats, starting with forums on CompuServe, and birthing at least the concepts for many games we have today.
The resurgence of comic books has brought with it the graphic novel, not really new, but a genre reengaged, gathering even more attention. Fan fiction, once a despised genre of imitation, has now not only allowed thousands to tell the stories from their own perspective but has birthed works of its own, including the much-maligned but popular Fifty Shades of Gray, birthed from the often despised Twilight series.
The point is, now more than ever, there are more ways to tell stories and share them with others. Increasingly there are avenues to learn story structure and observe literature without the need to be stuffy and overly formal. A blend of learning, similar to the path I chose for myself, can and is being taught in the classroom.
The direct benefit is something all authors want: relevance. Kids are reading more than ever, and writing more too. From video on their phones, which require the best wireless headphones for kids, to typing away on their computers from a young age, they are finding ways to get their stories in a format they can share with others. They are just doing it in different ways. As writers, we are given great responsibility and opportunity. We have a new and growing audience. It is up to us to capture their imaginations, through formal and informal literature.