The responses to my post about gender-directed1 reading reminded me that I’ve been meaning to post about authors who are famous in their own country but not that well known outside it. Specifically, a bunch of you were aghast that anyone could dismiss Flannery O’Connor as “lightweight”. I suspect the reason the lecturer did so—you know, other than him being a dick—was that he probably hadn’t heard of her. O’Connor is not nearly as well-known in Australia as she is in the USA. Angela Carter, on the other hand, he’d most definitely heard of her.2 She’s much better known in Australia than she is here.
One of the pleasant shocks of coming to the USA was discovering how many of its writers I had never heard of. I knew that there were many many Australian writers and artists and musicians USians had never heard of. But I had not realised that the reverse was true. For instance, I had never heard of Shirley Jackson.3 Shocking, but true. I know what you’re thinking. How is that even possible? But imagine the joy of discovering such a genius of a writer when I’d thought I knew all the good USian ones.4
I remember distinctly the first time I heard about Jackson. It was at an sf convention in the bar. A bunch of writers were talking about the first time they read “The Lottery” and the impact it had on them and their writing. When I admitted as to how I had no idea what they were talking about they flat out didn’t believe me. I was accused of lying. None of those USians could get it through their heads that you can get through your schooling without ever being made to read “The Lottery.” In Australia, millions of us have managed exactly that.
They also found it difficult to credit that a wannabe genre writer had managed not to read the writer that one of them described as the single biggest influence on 20th century genre writing.5 That statement of course led to a huge argument that encompassed the entire bar. As cases were made for Tolkien, Heinlein, and sundry others.
While it was going on I retreated to the dealers’ room and picked up a copy of The Lottery and Other Stories, the reading of which put me in the Shirley-Jackson-is-one-of-the-greatest-writers-of-the-20th-century camp. I love her. If one day I write a story or novel halfway as good as her best then, well, WOW.6
The Shirley Jackson thing was a revelation to me. I had assumed that Australians get hit with all things USian. All your tv shows, books, movies, comics, games etc etc. All my life, the assumption and fear that US culture is taking over Australia has been strong. So discovering that it wasn’t true, that the US of A is so much more than the stream of books, TV, movie, and music that make it into the Australian marketplace was delightful. It heartened me. It still does. There is no country in the world whose culture is so dominant that everyone else knows all their famous artists. Not a one.
Wherever you go in the world you will discover new and wonderful things. Even in the United States of America. Hell, if the work of Shirley Jackson is anything to go by, then maybe especially in the USA.
- Blog Overlord: What a pretty neologism, Justine.
JL: Why, thank you!
BO: Um, Justine, I was being sarcastic. Really sarcastic.
JL: Well, you can rack off then, can’t you?
BO: Not really. I’m Blog Overlord.
JL: I hired you. I can also fire you.
BO: Whatever. That “word” still sucks. [↩]
- Though I very much doubt he’d actually read her. To tell the truth, after a few lectures from that bloke I started to doubt he could read at all. [↩]
- Or Joyce Carole Oates, Dawn Powell, and Eudora Welty. [↩]
- Wow, was I wrong about that! [↩]
- It was still the 20th Century when this conversation was happening. [↩]
- I tell you Stephanie-Rice speak is contagious. [↩]