A Fascination with Literary Groups

myself

Writing isn’t as much of a hermit hobby as I thought. Sure, when I was younger and well into my teens, I hid any type of writing I did in a document on our family computer under my initials and a number. I probably thought I was being sneaky about how I would come into the living room and add to my story — a riff off of Little Women about a girl and boy’s school post Civil War where we grow up with the characters and watch them try to make it in the changed world — but my sister finally looked over my shoulder at the Word doc on my screen and read the chapter’s title aloud to me. “What’s Joe’s boat?” she asked without emotion, though my 13 year old heart grew embarrassed at her blatant disregard for my privacy.

My other sister did the same. She spent hours on the family computer. She sat in front of a Word doc with tiny script, typing away well after my bed time. I’d wake up to get water and see her illuminated by the blue glow, a Dictionary nearby, and a Thesaurus in her hands. Years later, she let me read her stories, and as unused to that freedom and unused to reading on the computer, I felt like I was entrusted with some sort of responsibility. The parts that were scary made me stop. The parts that had beautiful descriptions made me sigh.

We stayed up that night talking and joking about stories and books. We talked about her unfinished manuscript and I gave my opinions as well as any 14 or 15-year-old writer could, and she listened patiently as she sat in front of the computer and would scroll and ask questions. By the end of the night, before we started to drift off, lying on dragged out comforters on the floor, my sister asked me what I was working on. I never thought to offer any of my stories up for the same critique, and frankly, I didn’t think my banal stories were really that well written. I had ideas, sure, but I hardly had much of a scene or even a short story written by that point.

I demurred, slightly, but I also felt almost special that she noticed. I told her about the diary I was working on. How I liked YA stories and how I wanted to write about New York, and she listened and offered advice on first-person accounts and encouraged me to just write it out and see what happened.

That was my first experience at meeting a fellow writer. In school they make writing one of the branches of lessons during class, and you keep quiet as everyone groans over their stories. You don’t tell everyone you stayed up writing about the guy who shrunk down and built a sand castle mansion, even if they do wonder why you’re over the page requirement.

I became interested in the idea of literary groups when one of my writer friends once asked where was our writer’s movement. Where was our Bloomsbury Group? And I asked right back, “Isn’t that how it works? You find writers you like. You move in an area together. Bam! You’re a movement.”

Is it that simple. Take for instance, my friend Melissa. She moved to New York almost a year or two before I came here, and she always kept her eyes on writing. Writing groups, planned readings, book fairs, book stores, editorship. She even finished her first novel, which I am like a proud mama duck about. Melissa always told me that she needs to find other writers. She came here to write and she needs to find other writers to inspire her and to learn from, and I always loved that sentiment. I figured that that’s how you start a group.

Even now, as I try to finish my short stories to submit, I think about how I entrusted my story to people I love talking shop with and how I value their opinions. Was this how it started for those other literary groups? Of course, these groups are made by a variety of reasons. Patrons, publishers, even just friends, brought them together, and I can’t help but be fascinated that these artists found each other.

The Lost Generation

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The group of writers post World War I like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway who created a sort of group during the 1920s in Paris. The Lost Generation title came from Hemingway’s patron and mentor Gertrude Stein, who told Hemingway, “all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” The group included Fitzgerald, T.S. Elliot, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, and Isadora Duncan. They were ex-pats living in Paris, scarred by the brutality of the Great War. Their work is full of despair, futility of life, a sure response to what had happened to be sure but also as a coping mechanism to what they must’ve experienced. I think that Fitzgerald encompasses the mood this in This Side of Paradise with “all Gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken.”

The Bloomsbury Group or Bloomsbury Set

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The Bloomsbury Set consisted of English philosophers, artists, and writers from Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, and E.M. Forster who gathered together from 1907 to 1930. The name comes from meeting in the Bloomsbury district in London — around the British Museum — where they would meet at the houses of Clive and Vanessa Bell and her brother and sister Adrian and Virginia Woolf. They were followers of philosophers G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell who were forward thinkers in the early 20th century. They’re a reaction against Victorian life with its stiff conventions, societal expectations and a turn towards the enjoyment of the personal, private life.

The Beat Generation

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Post World War II writers who came together in the 1950s. Think Allen Ginsberg’s Howl William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This group developed a sort of counter culture to the era and had a reputation of being new bohemian hedonists who celebrated nonconformity. The name itself seems to come from a conversation Kerouac had with writer John Clellon Holmes or street hustler Herbert Huncke. Beat could mean tired down, like a pair of beaten socks, but Kerouac includes it in upbeat, beatific, and musically “the beat.” I figured they were tired and wanted to get a pulse back on life really — as it seems all of these groups are trying for. They liked Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Herman Melville. They wanted a liberation of censorship, sexual liberation, open drug use. Again we see a reaction to another great war and the social expectations. They originally started in New York before most of the group made their way to San Francisco — which strikes me as many writer friends who tire of New York have threatened to do just that — and they later became the San Francisco Renaissance.

Obviously there are way more out there. Trace a movement and trace it back to a group of writers and artists who were talking about it, creating the revolution without even knowing.

 

 

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