Five closet genre writers

If there weren’t such a stigma ­attached to the label, these authors might have called themselves genre writers


In honour of this week’s cover story on local genre writer Andrew Pyper, here are five more (whether they like the label or not):

Doris Lessing

Lessing achieved literary sainthood when she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. But while people continue to read and discuss the feminist classic The Golden Notebook (1962) and astute political novels like The Good Terrorist (1985), her five-novel science fiction series Canopus In Argos: Archives (1979-1983) is largely ignored – by the literary establishment, that is. They were savagely reviewed but gained Lessing a younger audience, and Philip Glass adapted two of the books into an opera.

Scott Spencer (aka Chase Novak)

Spencer, best known for the 1979 novel Endless Love (which earned one of his two National Book Award nominations and inspired two movies), has been compared to literary heavyweights like Johns Updike and Cheever. His late-career transformation into the horror writer Chase Novak (Breed, in 2012, and last year’s Brood) has earned him a whole new legion of fans.

Colson Whitehead

Whitehead’s achieved serious literary cred with dutifully difficult books like The Intuitionist (1999), in which the elevator is a metaphor for racial pro­gress, and John Henry Days (2001), which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. But it’s telling that the Ivy League-educated writer’s most discussed novel to date is 2011’s Zone One, a zombie story set in a post-apocalyptic New York City.

Margaret Atwood

Ever since her standoff with Ursula Le Guin over her refusal to label the Oryx trilogy sci-fi – speculative, she insisted on calling it – the Canuck icon has been perceived as a snob when it comes to genre. Never mind that her dystopic The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) appears on many scariest-books-ever lists. In one of her lesser-known non-fiction books, In Other Worlds, Atwood confesses her love of science fiction, having read the stuff almost all her life. 

Kazuo Ishiguro

When critics were locked in debate over whether Never Let Me Go (2005) was sci-fi or not, Ishiguro responded, “I think genre rules should be porous, if not non-existent.” He’s saying the same thing about his recent release, The Buried Giant (2015), claiming the fantasy setting is intended only as a neutral environment for exploring issues of memory and post-apocalypse trauma. But we’re talking elves and dragons here. Exquisitely written written or not, you have to call it fantasy.

Don’t miss: Canadian horror story.

books@nowtoronto.com | @susangcole

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