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Friday, December 15, 2017

The Aging Male Writer and his Vanishing Audience

Can this breed re-invent itself, re-ignite a spark with changing audiences, or must it go into extinction gracefully?

This is a controversial subject. Let me make that clear at the outset. And I apologize in advance if I come across as that typecast "male, chauvinist p—"; that is certainly not my intention. But as I am one among this soon-to-be-extinct species, I thought I would get my thoughts on paper before the opportunity lapses.

Once upon a time, the majority of writers were men. Profligate and prodigious, they wrote on topics of adventure, war, espionage, crime, love and even ventured into poetry and literary fiction. This breed of writer was objectified as the epitome of the writing life. They made fortunes and squandered them. Women fell for their charms and got burned, but this only added to the writers' mystique. And many of them died young, garnering permanent places in literary history. We still read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, and Miller. After WWII, the stereotypical male writer became a bit more disciplined, businesslike: Updike, Bellow, Irving and Roth come to mind, although a few renegades of the older gang still hovered, like Kerouac and Bolano. Why I picked these particular writers is because their subject matter was intended primarily for a male audience; their protagonists were men, often guys who had been shaped by two world wars, in search of their place in a changing world. Readers loved this stuff. These authors wrote for their “Me generation.” But their protagonists eventually started to age as the writers themselves got older, along with their male audiences.

And now the tide has definitely turned. Numerous surveys indicate that the majority of readers today are women. To the neutral observer and book lover, this is welcome relief because as male readers diminish, or get taken hostage by the Twitterverse or take up golf, the emergence of the new majority assures us of a continuing book reading public. As another aging male writer, Ian McEwan, wrote in The Guardian newspaper: "When women stop reading, the novel will be dead."

The encroachment on the old boy's writing club continues with pressure from readers and interest groups to publish more female authors and to include more female writers’ work in anthologies, magazines, literary awards and other bastions of recognition (and accompanying financial reward) where male writers held sway in the past. Again, an understandable shift as tastes and audiences change.

So where does that leave our aging male writer and his vanishing audience? Will he have to create female protagonists? Would male characters have to exhibit more of their dormant feminine sides in order to appeal to readers? Out with machismo and in with sensitivity? A tough job for an author who learned his chops in another camp; he will be like an immigrant trying to get a job in a new country, only it was once his country. Does he have to write under a female pseudonym, which I'm told happens regularly in the romance fiction genre? After all, George Eliot and one J.K. Rowling did it in reverse quite successfully.

Tempting options, all of them. But another side of me says that making this seismic level of a disguise will be a contrivance and will be untrue to the philosophy of the aging male writer. At the end of the day, it's back to the essentials: (a) the quality of writing, and (b) having a message to say that resonates with the times—let the audience fall where it will. And if the aging male writer has to head off into extinction as a consequence, at least he will be contributing his spoor to the trail of evolution for future generations to study and appreciate.

I told you this was a difficult subject. Do I have any friends left, of either sex?




About the Writer

Shane Joseph is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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11 comments on The Aging Male Writer and his Vanishing Audience

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By riginal on May 26, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Shane, with all due respect,i find your post ridiculous. "The spoor left behind by the extinction of ageing writers?" I don't think for one moment you or any body else is too old too frail to have an impact on any genre of writing/art/performance, and or to achieve any measure of success due to ageism? Hemmingway had dire health problems...he still wrote,and rather well do you think? The vanishing audience? A writer/performer in any artistic endeavour only loses an audience whether it be a listener/reader/ if it is not entertaining. What the Charles Dickens has age got to do wth anything in life for that matter? As long as you have a 'young at heart' or at least a heart and a bit of 'can do' guts... you're in with a writing FIGHTING chance.I read your posts...not your age!

IE: Not all of us have had the luxury of being able to travel extensively and measure distance etc foliage and or sights. It's the fervour with which one approachs life and life's experiences that can produce a good 'fresh thinking imaginative' writing persona...not age. Methinks a bit of 'tongue in cheek' of the derriere split variety is in play here. Take mo9 for instance. Bagged by the established on one article. Don't care if she's got one leg one arm or about her age. She's got guts and goes where the timid fear to tread...she will make it. I've always maintained you're only as good as your last piece. "The audience is the glass the water is the show...a pill of comedy/drama added, effervescent bubbles flow.But effervescence fades like the fury of a storm...for come a new tomorrow a new pill must be born." It's not over til' the braille of life is well and truly fingered. You may be old worn out and by your own imputations on the decline but i still love you Shane and will indeed come by ahhh to grease your wheels of ambitionary foray so that will leave your arthritic fingers free to clack...along in times square with your ratcheting false teeth. I reckon you've got a nobel prize in you Shane so just remember my kind words when your carer tucks (less the F?) you in tonight after your tepid bath. Bring life on i say, and to hell with the disbursement of ageism and the relics of bullshiting. Chin up Shane...i'm laughing here. Bring out the dead...money to help the spoor?

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By ranfuchs on May 27, 2013 at 06:46 am

You often hear school children asking ‘what is the use of studying THIS if I am not going to use it.’ This can be anything with no immediately visible practical values. Novel reading is such a subject. School system that does not support the ‘impractical’ at best can raise technocrats, at worse soulless adults, which do not waste their time reading novels, soulless publishers that do not understand novels, and soulless society, that worship nothing but materialism (the circle between communism and capitalism is closing)

Surveys show that it’s not that people write read and write less – but that they read and write less fiction.

Aren’t we lucky that we have not yet managed to excise the passion for the evocative out of women.?Until we do it, fiction will survive.

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By Shane Joseph on May 27, 2013 at 06:49 am

riginal - looks like i've raised the heckles of the aging male writers, made them come out fighting. an unexpected but fortunate consequence! i told you this was a touchy subject. but thanks for your spirited comment

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By riginal on May 27, 2013 at 10:15 am

Pluralismically speaking, we thank you for the compliment...i love you man...spoors and all.Yes! i agree...we must spoor a thought for those less spoorcified literally. Spooradically that is. And if one must suffer bad spoorsmanship without a grin and not open one's heart to a fellow spoorsman then it's a spoor day in hell and may the spoor gatherers of spoor yore and of future lore not bore but spoor to the fore because if spoordom sets in i tend to feel unmercifully spoorned. So take up your spoors o' gentleman of the rotund table and spoor a thought for the less spoortunate.Make sure gentlemen and voracious reading spoorswomen that all spoors are of the same length so that at the end of the literary game the spoorcard will be amicably level. Give or take a tad of bad spoorsmanship? Because hell hath no greater fury than that of a woman spoorned.I mean beauty is in the eyes of the spoor wretches forced to grovel round ground for a tentative pound or two of fresh corned spoorn to dish up a delectable dish for those whom revel in literary spoornification which in turn could give birth to spoornography...ie: 'Debbie does Spoorn the sheep?' Cheers Shane...love you man...in a virile spoorsmanlike way befitting two men about to partake of dropping old spoor to inspire future generational rows of youthful sensitivical 'ready made' home groan genetically modified idealogical grazing fields of-for the wont of a better word-spoor?

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By Shane Joseph on May 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

Ranfuchs: - I like your theory that fiction is soulfood. Gives us a reason for continuing to harvest this crop that only few partake of. Regards!

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By Shane Joseph on May 27, 2013 at 11:32 am

Ranfuchs: - I like your theory that fiction is soulfood. Gives us a reason for continuing to harvest this crop that only few partake of. Regards!

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By Barbara MacDonald on May 27, 2013 at 03:22 pm

Great article Shane....is very sad to see what is happening with the new generation...technology is wonderful, but in many ways interpersonal interaction is suffering. I do wonder how much people really do read the classics which were mandatory when we were in school. Literacy is surely suffering. Now if you want to write, to have success, it seems you have to write erotic or vampire material.

I will continue to write my poetry, as it is just a part of my soul at this point in time...kind of like breathing to me.

Well done, as always Shane.

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By jonpercepto on May 27, 2013 at 07:24 pm

The one thing to remember, no matter how old or young one is, male or female is to remain curious. Curiosity is the key to all knowledge and wisdom. To see things through the eyes of a child keeps one young and pure. The reason people age has nothing to do with their body. Its all in the mind and in the perception of reality. Seeing things through the eyes of a child is different from being childish. Its seeing life literally as children see it as they gasp in wonderment in the zen moment. Dont let yourself fall into the trap of boredom Remain curious and you will be young even at your last breath.

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By riginal on May 27, 2013 at 08:20 pm

hear hear Jonpercepto,a breath of fresh air. Curiousity didn't kill the cat...big Macs and apathy did. Even though it only ate them now and Zen...or should i say spooradically? After all i haven't read the sequel to the 'Old man and the Sea.' 'The young man on his literary jet ski with his rod in hand and a flat battery?' Cheers everyone. Bit pissed off to tell you the truth. Just lost my marriage,house,mentally ill daughter behind it all,brainwashed my wife. (did my best) i'll do a post and you can pick shit out of me Shane. Love you man! cheers.

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By Shane Joseph on May 27, 2013 at 09:04 pm

thanks barbara! i wondered if female readers would take offence, and your comments are most encouraging.

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By Shane Joseph on May 27, 2013 at 09:06 pm

jonpercepto - very perceptive insights! curiosity may have killed the cat but it certainly keeps us alive!

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