Play This: Notes from a Creative Writing Conference

Writers make cases for games and emerging forms of literature.

By: Rich Shivener

Filed Under: Books Comics Reflections


Here it is: March 2014. Seattle. I’m seeing it, its downtown filled with emerging and veteran scribes of fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, plus forms that transcend the aforementioned, igniting our brains in ways we never expected. I’m there, whether I’m talking video games, comics or something completely unrelated.

My brain is still on fire after enjoying a brief stint in Boston – in the Back Bay neighborhood, namely – for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ conference and bookfair (AWP), an annual pairing that draws writers far and wide.  The conference, held March 6-9, offered readings and panels on all things creative writing, while the bookfair was a celebration of literary journals, small presses and writing programs. Food and drinks were available, but those were secondary to words and conversations. And the official AWP events gave way to offsite parties, where booze mixed with poetry and fiction that thrives well below mainstreams. I could have discovered more writers, but sleep, though an afterthought, often defeated me just after midnight.

Every morning and afternoon at the conference, I ducked into crowded readings and panels. On the final afternoon, March 9, I was sitting in an overflowing panel attempting to further legitimize the central form this very publication holds dear: “Video Games, Fan Fiction, and Comics: Alternative Genres as Legitimate Literature.” Kirsten Holt and Leslie Salas, MFA candidates of University of Central Florida, spoke of games and comics, respectively, while Elaine Phillips, associate professor at Tennessee State University, made a case for fan fiction as a means of learning, especially for budding creative writers interested in adding to the established universes of, say, Harry Potter and Twilight. The abstract looked as such:

“Alternative forms of narrative are often perceived with disdain or suspicion even though they address the same plots, themes, and conditions of respectable literary forms. Comics have begun to break away from this stigma, but what about more mainstream genres, such as fan fiction and video games? How do all three of these alternative forms both threaten and reinforce ideas about originality and narrative? This panel will make the case for alternative genres as creative literature.”

Holt focused on mainstream and indie games, namely Mass Effect 3, Bioshock, Limbo and Slenderman: The Eight Pages, noting their parallels to respectable literature. She shared her presentation. (Many thanks!)

At the end, Holt and I met, and I mentioned the game Façade, created by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern. I’m thinking, I said, about working that in my freshman composition course; I’d like students to construct narratives through their unique language, given that the game allows a player to do so as they attempt to resolve a dispute between two lovers. In fact, Façade already has respect in academia, as evidenced in part by the Electronic Literature community.

In any case, Holt’s presentation, as well as those of her colleagues, fit well in the context of AWP. While it largely consists of poetry, creative non-fiction and fiction, it’s an advocate of diverse thinking and being. There were memoirists evoking the mystique of the Arctic, screenwriters arguing for their “misunderstood” genre, digital poets remixing Samuel Beckett, editors talking lit journals and whittling dreams into realities, fresh words catching hundreds of eyes …. For a writer who finds inspiration in creative convergences like this, this was a call to action, a call to reflect on my writing, and my future with it. Like a draft, it’s still taking shape, and I like what I’m seeing so far.

Filed Under: Books Comics Reflections

About the Author:
Rich Shivener is the Lead Editor of Bit Creature. He is also a writer, instructor and iPad whisperer from the shores of Northern Kentucky. You can find him in Publishers Weekly and Writer's Digest, among other places.

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