Shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Jennifer Egan made some disparaging remarks about other authors’ writing being banal:
Anyone can say anything, that’s easy. My focus is less on the need for women to trumpet their own achievements than to shoot high and achieve a lot. What I want to see is young, ambitious writers. And there are tons of them. Look at “The Tiger’s Wife.” There was that scandal with the Harvard student who was found to have plagiarized. But she had plagiarized very derivative, banal stuff. This is your big first move? These are your models?
I read several book bloggers’ responses to this comment and couldn’t decide whether I should weigh in on the comment or let it lie. Well, Egan has now apologized, and I just had to say something about this. I had decided not to do this because I wanted to say it nicely, but I’m just going to be blunt. No offense is meant to bloggers who voiced their displeasure with Egan’s comments.
Edited to quote Egan’s apology directly (from the link above):
“I have nothing to defend in what I said,” she said. “I really wish I hadn’t said that, and was incredibly and immediately sorry that anyone was hurt by it. I don’t blame anyone for being mad about it.” Though she does believe there’s an interesting conversation to be had about genre and gender and literary culture, she doesn’t see her comments in that interview as any kind of effective contribution to that discussion. “I’m all for criticizing; I’m not saying that no one should ever criticize anyone else,” she continued. “But if you’re going to criticize, you should do it intentionally and thoughtfully and carefully and know whom you’re criticizing and for what. And I didn’t meet any of those criteria.”
Authors do not always like each other’s work and are sometimes vocal about it (see Mark Twain, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway to name a few). So what? I don’t like Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson, and I am quite vocal here and on Twitter about that. No one has demanded my apology. I’m beginning to think that Egan is the victim of a double standard here. She is a woman criticizing women authors rather than one of the men listed above.
See, the thing about free speech is that it sometimes hurts people’s feelings. Those people need to buck up and put on their big girl (or boy) pants and get over it. I’m sorry, but not everything public figures say has to be nice. If you would rather not read or buy any of Egan’s work from now on, that’s fine. That is how the free market works.
Egan is a brilliant writer. A Visit from the Goon Squad is now one of my favorite books of all time. She thinks some YA authors write work that is banal. That is her opinion, and no one should expect her to apologize for it. I don’t want to live in a world where no one criticizes anything for fear of retribution.