Do Authors Need Tenure?

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The tenure system works precisely because it insulates scholars from market pressures and encourages them to pursue work motivated by passion, intellectual curiosity, social and political change, and the desire to bring new things into the world. If we want a vibrant literary culture, we need tenure for novelists and poets.

Creative writing programs currently provide tenure to a small number of authors, especially in the fields of literary fiction and poetry, which partake in the European High Art tradition and enjoy an elevated cultural status. But it’s no less urgent to nurture talented authors working in genres like fantasy and science fiction. Without a tenure system that embraces a diverse set of authors, we risk letting our speculative worlds, our visions of alternative and future realities, become stale and shallow.

The sticking point is how to select and vet the tenure recipients. Should tenure go to authors with a record of success in the marketplace? Should the public vote? Should we create an annual Olympics of the Written Word? Should we leave this up to panels (and to go further down the rabbit hole, how do we select the panelists)? A lottery?

Regarding the question of who pays for all of this, I’ll refer you to Lee Konstantinou’s excellent “Two Paths for the Future of the Author,” written on the bustling floor of the Frankfurt Book Fair (a thoroughly market-driven space, if there ever was one) in 2013.

One thought on “Do Authors Need Tenure?

  1. The question of selection is key. The University is built around a specific ideal of knowledge-production, and tenure-able work for creative writers tends to encode values associated with knowledge-production, primary among them peer review. Is peer review a good ideal when deciding who should get tenure among creative writers? Should the desires, interpretations, and preferences of audiences factor into the peer review process? If so, how?

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