Can you actually make a living as a writer these days? This class is an introduction to contemporary literature that focuses on the economics of the literary world. In part this means the business side of literature: the publishing industry, the role of agents, the rising power of Amazon, the concentration of global sales and profits around a few blockbuster authors and brands, the spread of e-books and audiobooks, and the prevalence of adaptation between print and screen media. But we will also consider economics in a broader sense that includes the circulation of symbolic rewards: the so-called “economy of prestige,” which revolves less around money than around “reputational capital” and alternative currencies such as prizes, awards, and high-status MFA degrees or university professorships. Our approach will be to study a range of contemporary American and other English-language novels in some detail, learning about how they and their authors managed to succeed in a challenging winner-take-all fiction market and how they reflect in their stories or styles certain features of today’s literary marketplace. Some possible texts include Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad; Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist; Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones; Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go; Hugh Howie, Wool; EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey; and John Scalzi, The Dispatcher.
This class has no prerequisites. It should appeal to students interested in English, creative writing, business, or the culture and entertainment industries. Assigned work includes five short quizzes, a number of small-scale solo or team research projects, and a final essay. Depending on your choice of final project, the class can count toward the minor in digital humanities.