I write a mystery series set in academia and now and then fans ask me, is it really that bad? Are professors that selfish, backbiting, and ungenerous? Well, obviously not all of them are, but academic culture from school to school has quirks and even idiocies that make great material for satire. Sometimes the behavior is egregious, sometimes it’s just ridiculous. Either way, it’s fodder for fiction.
Case in point. At one private college where I read from one of my most successful books, I wasn’t brought in by English or Creative Writing faculty, but by another department that I won’t name.
I love readings. I have a theater background, years of experience on radio, and I’ve done hundreds of readings on three continents. I’ve also taught workshops for writers on how to do readings, which require practice and art and thought.
Only four people turned up for this particular campus reading, and the disappointed coordinator told me that despite her efforts, whenever she brought in a speaker who writing students would naturally be interested in, English and Creative Writing professors consistently failed to do anything to promote the reading. They didn’t encourage their students to show up. They basically cold-shouldered the event. Why? Territoriality. Apparently they feel they’re the only ones who should be inviting authors to campus.
It made me laugh, because it seemed so very typical of academic pettiness. But it also made me sad because the writing students might have learned something and enjoyed themselves.
I never obsess about numbers when I do a reading: 4 or 400, the audience deserves my best, and that’s what I gave them at this college. Too bad the small-minded English Department and its writing professors don’t do the same, don’t really care enough about their own students to point them towards opportunities right there on their own little campus. It makes you wonder how else they may be giving students less than they deserve as they jealously defend what think is their turf and nobody else’s.