Classifying what is, exactly, an outsider in the world of literature is difficult. For one, while the literary community (online and elsewhere) is passionate and vocal, that activism might obscure how relatively small it actually is. For another, while we know that certain people definitely aren’t (to the extent that mentioning their names here isn’t necessary), there are many others straddling the line. People like Ben Marcus and Lydia Davis, for example, write weird, non-traditional stuff, but it feels like their widespread acclaim should keep them exempt from ‘outsider’ status. Then there are people like Tao Lin – figureheads for an alt(ernative) way of writing and thinking about writing, but quite famous for being so.
What differentiates the designation of youthful rebel from the cult of youth? The ‘relatively unknown’ from the up-and-coming? The Internet, too, makes things harder; the number of Twitter followers a writer has might be a good gauge, but at the same time, she might have a lot of Twitter followers from being a contrarian. Is a person well known for being an outsider really an outsider? And if someone is truly an outsider, isn’t featuring their work on a popular arts and culture website counterintuitive?
We don’t have answers to these questions, but we do have a top ten list.
Crispin started her online literary magazine Bookslut 12 years ago, when it was one of the first not-prissy book review publications online, and the entire time she’s been known for her no-bullshit tone and willingness to criticize the renowned and powerful. This year she launched the Daphne awards – a prize intended to right the wrongs of literary history and give credit to genius woefully ignored or underrepresented fifty years ago.
‘I write books before they are books’, reads the tagline of Kapil’s website, Was Jack Kerouac a Punjabi? Her aesthetic there – as well as in the five poetry collections she’s published – is writing as evidence of the process as such, and it’s refreshingly questioning and feels fluid without the force of crafted construction that weighs down so much poetry.
Anyone who vehemently and publicly denounces well-known literary figures beloved for their golly-gee accessibility, rejects inclusion in mainstream competitions, and writes eloquently and purposefully about his life in a historically and problematically underrepresented place probably counts as a literary rebel. McClanahan’s critical renown does not overshadow his ideological dedication to the indie, and he’s all the more respectable for it.
Helmed by good-vibes alt lit activist Steven Roggenbuck, the super-positive boost house project – which published the first alt lit anthology earlier this month – epitomises DFW’s hypothetical ‘next real literary “rebels”’: ‘The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.’
Despite some mainstream publishing successes, Broder and her work remain firmly in the realm of the strange, the uncomfortable, the honest, the now. Just as notable is her Twitter account, where she’s prolific and confessional and uses common netspeak to talk about complex questions of existence, both general and the modern-day.
Coupland’s many novels draw on principles from the visual – he’s also an artist/designer – and press on issues of the cutting-edge, particularly technology and its changing effects on humanity. His new novel, Worst. Person. Ever., challenges the present-day with excess, satire, and biting critique.
BRAD LISTI + MIRA GONZALEZ + SPENCER MADSEN
Brad Listi’s Other People (re-branded to become OTHERPPL) podcast has featured interviews with writers and ‘writerly people’ that range from the mega-stars to the vocal indie authors who hate them (ahem). Listi’s recent re-branding added a magazine component to the site that doesn’t take submissions (I think the phrase ‘fuck submissions’ might have been used in an interview) and only features three writers: poets Gonzalez and Madsen and Listi himself. The pieces they’ve published so far straddle the line between blog post and essay, and it’s in a good way.
SOPHIE COLLINS + RACHEL ALLEN
We’ve featured Collins and Allen’s joint project – tender, a ‘platform for work by female-identified writers and artists’ – before, but it deserves reiterating: the PDF magazine is beautiful and highlights work from women both little-known and not so. It sucks that a focus on women and the willingness to feature unknown high school students alongside esteemed poets is cutting-edge, but here we are.
Despite both a novel, An Untamed State, and an essay collection, Bad Feminist, out this year, the prolific critic and general presence on the Internet/Twitter/online lit mag scene is willing to fight – on trans* issues, race issues, feminist issues, class issues, etc. Her rebuttals to the bullshit that goes on in mainstream media are always calm in tone but fierce in argument.
Writer of the ‘queer Pynchonesque adventure’ featured here last month, the Berlin-based performance artist/actor/novelist/person-obviously-not-interested-in-categories is unafraid to couple humour with violence, straightforward narrative with eloquent and/or complicated language, and high-brow with snark. Orgies, terrorists, winkingly named characters, the Apocalypse – this ain’t your boring MFA classmate’s novel.
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