This Week in Words – May 12

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

First off, Maurice Sendak died this week. This cartoon is an interesting way to remember him.

Also, May is National Short Story Month. When did that start? Why am I just hearing about it? It’s nice to know we’ve automatically got this one covered, since all of our stories are short. And as a short story writer, it’s nice to know I’ve got my own month. Take that, poetry! NPR highlights several of their interviews with and pieces on writers of short form to honor Short Story Month, which is very cool.

This week, I am abandoning my usual interview-laden format in favor of a couple of terrific essays about two entirely different subjects.

The first is an essay by Jennifer Miller featured in The Millions called “In Defense of Autobiography.” Miller addresses the reluctance of writers to base fictional work in their own experiences for fear of being considered cliché or contributing to the “commoditization of fiction,” because autobiographical work is so marketable today. As someone whose first book was somewhat autobiographical, she defends the impulse of some writers to use their own lives in their work. If that is the story you are compelled to write, she says, then write it. Some people call that “navel-gazing,” but Justin Torres, author of We The Animals, says it is actually “mind-gazing….turning yourself outward, challenging your own assumptions and trying to make meaning out of life.” This is heartening for a writer who draws inspiration from real-life experiences (ahem, this writer). No matter what kind of story you mean to write, Miller concludes, the challenge is the same: “how best to say something valuable.”

The next essay was written by Treehouse contributor Roxane Gay, and it was featured in the The Rumpus this week. On the surface, “The Trouble with Prince Charming or He Who Trespassed Against Us” seems to be about all the flaws and fun that make worldwide phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey a delightful (and terrible) read. But the true message, as the title implies, is that stories like Fifty Shades, Twilight and even classic fairy tales certainly promise women can have their ideal Prince Charming and Happily Ever After, but never without a price. In the cases of Fifty Shades and Twilight, the price is especially high, and paid in exchange for the love of an abusive, controlling Prince Charming thinly veiled in the motivations of love or sex, or both. Though the books make for a fun read, Gay warns that the tone is too detrimental to dismiss. It “reinforces pervasive cultural messages women are already swallowing about what they should tolerate in romantic relationships, about what they should tolerate to be loved by their Prince Charming.” Gay conveys her warning against the increasingly potent message these stories are sending with an intelligent, modest and sometimes humorous tone that makes it impossible to ignore her.

For a little in-house news, it bears mentioning that in the coming weeks, Treehouse will be having a Jesus’ Son retrospective featuring some very awesome writers. Stay tuned…

Finally, a little shout-out to the mothers of the Treehouse crew and all moms – it is because of you that we are here, doing what we love. Thank you, we love you, and happy Mother’s Day.