10 Emerging Book Genres You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Literature, as with other creative pursuits, exists as one of the most diverse outlets for human expression available. Movements ebb and flow over time, allowing themselves to both influence and be influenced by the prevailing philosophical and cultural constructs swirling around them. Some obtain prominent – if not permanent – mainstream status and find their way onto syllabi across the world. Others tarry about on the fringes of general awareness, pleasuring and provoking only a small subsection of the populace. That somehow seems a bit unfair, as all movements do have something to contribute to the literary canon.
The following emergent genres or subgenres have garnered a fair amount of attention over the past few years. Some have been around for a while. Some have recently sprouted from preexisting movements, lately postmodernism. And others are relatively new. All any of them share is that they deserve more attention than they currently receive, yet appear to be currently gaining some degree of momentum. Readers of a more literary bent may recognize some of these genres and subgenres, but the mainstream still has yet to really embrace them or realize their existence.
- Hindi Dalit: Considered “untouchable” in India’s formal and informal caste systems alike, the Dalit suffered from intense marginalization for centuries. However, publishing houses recently came to realize that even the “outcasts” have extremely valuable, eclectic stories in need of telling. Major Hindi literary magazines such as Katha Desh and Hans began publishing a wider variety of Dalit works in late 2009 and early 2010. Obviously, this particular genre has been around for a while – it just took a while to receive anything beyond peripheral recognition by mainstream printers and critics.
Hans dedicated a 2004 issue entirely to Dalit poetry, short stories, literary criticism and more, paving the way for the broader recognition it is beginning to enjoy today. Featuring Omprakash Valmiki, Chandrabhan Prasad, Rajat Rani Meenu, Mohandas Naimishray, Mata Prasad, Jaiprakash Kardam and guest-editing by Ajay Navaria and Sheoraj Singh Bechain, it opened up the community to new ideas and concepts. In January of 2010 Navaria became the first Hindi Dalit writer invited to take part in the prestigious Jaipur Literature Festival. Some members of the Dalit caste torched copies of “Munshi” Premchand’s acclaimed Rangbhumi in protest of the high-class hegemony and negative depictions of the “outcast” peoples in the same year. Most members of the Dalit literary community condemned this action, however.
All literary movements have their own fractures between writers, and Hindi Dalit is not an exception proving the rule. Every creator speaks in his or her own unique voice, interpreting and relating their own experiences and visions. But at the core of almost every work of Hindi Dalit lay a pining for spiritual, social and political freedom after generations of finding themselves pushed to the fringes of society.
- Cashier Memoirs: The concept of memoirs by cashiers and other overlooked service workers has yet to gain any real momentum in the United States, but in Europe they seem to exist as their own self-contained subgenre. Anna Sam’s Tribulations of a Cashier kicked off the trend in 2008, recounting her triumphs and tragedies working in a French grocery store and eventually landing herself on the bestseller list. Her success piggybacked on Carmela Narcisi’s 99 Faces in One Day, which chronicled the interesting and frustrating individuals she encountered during her tenure as a cashier. At least one American author, Carrie Evans, attempted to emulate her European counterparts with her humorous Letters From Your Friendly Cashier, but it failed to catch on in her home country. Yet, anyways. Some believe the failure of such literature in the United States reflects consumer preference for memoirs by celebrities and those who work with them (and other wealthy, powerful individuals) rather than the more humble everyman and –woman.
Although nearly every memoir of this type approaches the subject of life behind the register as simultaneously humorous and thankless, their value transcends the amount of chuckles to be had. Those who have read any of the memoirs find them fascinating sociological studies in retail behavior – displayed by customers and employees alike. From the perspective of those whose services oftentimes go unacknowledged, even abused, one can gain some interesting insight into how people regard low-income workers and the tics they don’t mind displaying in front of perfect strangers. If nothing else, it also provides some valuable lessons in the importance of common courtesy.
- Bitpunk: An amalgamation of “8-bit” and “punk,” bitpunk has become the logical successor to the cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk movements. Gaining ground after blossoming from the chip tune/chipcore musical subgenre (a sterling example of which can be found here), the movement has swelled to encompass film and literature as well. Inspired by the unique sounds, textures and visuals of classic 8- and 16-bit videogames, this emerging genre is characterized by its nostalgia for the technologies of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
The screenplay for J.B. Ghuman, Jr.’s 2010 film Spork epitomizes the bitpunk aesthetic, drawing from of the tackier, more embarrassing (or, alternately, iconic) elements of the aforementioned eras. Its categorization as “punkish” comes from its sociopolitical bent. Spork dissects gender and sexual constructs from the perspective of an intersexed individual who identifies as female. Not every bitpunk piece in the future will necessarily deal with the plight of the sexually marginalized, of course, but it stands to reason that many protagonists will likely come from similarly overlooked backgrounds – a populist sensibility very much in line with the original punk movement. Suffice to say, all the cogs are now in place to get a very new literary genre off the ground like so many twin-tailed foxes.
- Twitter Novels: Microblog juggernaut Twitter provides a 140-character limit that many writers find challenging and absolutely tantalizing. One of the more visible and popular literary genres on this list, it probably nevertheless comes as a shock to some readers that the ubiquitous website genuinely has more to offer than news regarding whether or not Justin Bieber OMG TOTALLY SNEEZED LOLOLOL SOOO ADORBS. Both poetry – the haiku structure seems to be a popular choice for obvious reasons – and full novels have made their way onto the Twitter scene, though none have really made it huge just yet. Brandon J. Mendelson’s The Falcon Can Hear the Falconer (first chapter archived here) gained a small amount of buzz, and searches for Twitter novels yield results of varying popularity.
In Japan, whose prevailing culture seems to embrace technology with far more relish, the format has exploded with the same enthusiasm as the cell phone novel movement – the logical precursor that also saw experimentation in the United States as well. It remains to be seen whether or not a particularly enterprising and creative American writer can emulate the successes of his or her Japanese contemporaries with a breakthrough Twitter novel or poetry anthology of their own. For now, however, the genre continues to flounder about with an uncertain future ahead of it.
- Picture Books for the Elderly: Founded in 2007, Ageless Sages later earned the 2009 Leading Moms in Business Award for Natalie Tucker Miller. As the world’s first publishing company that predominantly prints picture books for senior citizens, she hopes that the books they produce will bring comfort and delight to elderly individuals in need of positive literature. Reading and soaking in artwork both keep a mind stimulated – and considering how age chips away at cognition, blending the 2 together certainly have their merits for the older demographics. Beth Miller penned the first of the genre, titled Lavender Ladies, in 2008. This picture book diverges from its “adult” counterparts found in Borders’ Humor section due to its lack of irony and entirely different motivation.
One of Ageless Sages’ core goals revolves around de-stigmatizing the aging process and taking away society’s shaming of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other eldercare institutions. It also hopes that taking in such literature together will help bridge gaps between family members who may not always understand what their senior relatives experience mentally, physically and emotionally on a daily basis. Few other publishing houses or writers appear to follow in the company’s lead for the time being, perhaps wondering whether or not a market exists for such literary works. Perhaps Ageless Sages should print a few more pieces before seeing how well their fledgling concept meets the needs and wants of their target audiences.
- Progression Literature: The true origins of this article stand as somewhat difficult to pinpoint given the number of spam blogs copying and pasting it for search engine hits, but the one listed here seems to be the oldest of the lot. More than likely the original. Here, Judyth Vary Baker pulls from sources as varied as Scientific American and the human experience to illustrate the concepts behind progression literature. The genre attempts to create a perpetual dénouement that mimics how people perceive time and events in their lives. Reality does not tie up all its loose ends, even continuing past the death of the protagonists experiencing their own unique narratives. From this, writers of progression works seek to build a more relatable piece of literature for audiences pining to know more.
Each story concludes with open-endedness, leaving readers to speculate and form their own ideas and opinions regarding the characters’ futures. At its center lay the all-too-human pursuit of “truth,” understanding and clarity – every writer, every narrator pursues answers that may or may not even come. It has postmodernism and poststructuralism (if not an earlier movement) to thank for its philosophical roots, though its heavy emphasis on the past, the pursuit of an often subjective truth and attempts to always stay suspended in a state of dénouement lead Baker to consider progression a genre or subgenre in and of itself. How successful this experiment ends up is anyone’s guess, though it does hold considerable promise.
- Lucid Fiction: Spirituality and the mysterious nature of dreams are nothing new to the literary world – they have pretty much existed as a mainstay since the advent of writing itself. Tantra Bensko defines lucid fiction as a surrealistic reality that pulls from heightened senses of consciousness in waking and sleeping life. The genre perceives mass media as a manipulative fiction obscuring the truth, with its own ideas and an earnest desire to “wake” readers up to its own interpretation of what is and is not reality. Many New Age and experimental concepts unsurprisingly form the backbone of lucid fiction, and Bensko encourages adherents to embrace their personal beliefs and sell them as something true within the context of the work itself. It extends beyond the realm of the speculative and into something with feet in two different worlds.
Lucid fiction as a genre is much easier to understand when one realizes it’s pretty much just postmodernism by people who believe in aliens.
- Kinetic Poetry: A new media phenomenon with its feet planted firmly in the digital age, kinetic poetry serves as a creative outlet for writerly and technological types alike. Interpretations of what it entails, of course, vary from artist to artist – but they all share a common grounding in synthesizing moving multimedia art with poetic traditions into a wholly stimulating experience. Some use Java as a canvas (such as Ken Perlin’s Magnetic Poetry-inspired example linked above), others prefer Flash or other animation programs.
Kinetic poetry does not come saddled with any particular manifesto or philosophy. Rather, it only falls victim to limitations of the chosen medium’s coding. The DGAA Kinetic Poetry Project showcases just how diverse the movement is, with myriad artistic and literary styles at play. No matter one’s social or political standings and opinions, the slowly burgeoning genre exists as accessible to anyone who wants to see their ideas literally in motion. While it remains popular among artists, experimental writers and computer enthusiasts, kinetic poetry still flits around just outside of mainstream consciousness.
- Combinatorial: When the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series goes multimedia, the combinatorial genre happens. A wonderful amalgamation of art, technology and literature, this genre of interactive fiction overlaps with mathematics and game theory in how it peers into the way different elements of the story have to forge relationships with the others.
Regardless of the writer’s philosophies and stylistic preferences, he or she can create interesting literature using the combinatorial method. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only the most devoted of individuals undergo this daunting and heavily detailed task. Dennis G. Jerz compares it to old text-based adventure games, where the developers had to consider every possible move a player could make and create situations accordingly. A similar subgenre of electronic literature known as hypertext involves similar components, though more akin to links on a blog post instead of an oldschool text adventure. It is not exactly the newest genre out there, but it continues to grow as video games and other technologies become more and more sophisticated.
- Hmong-American: The Hmong peoples, an Asian ethnic minority, only formulated their own written language in the 1950s. Unsurprisingly, then, it took a while for a strong literary tradition to gel. Thanks to efforts by the Hmong American Writer’s Circle, writers such as Mai Der Vang have organized events and classes in order to promote the community to members and non-members alike. As diverse as the literary canon of other cultures, the rich oral traditions passed from generation to generation can now reach a much broader audience and promote understanding between societies. Vang ruminates on how the comparatively recent establishment of a written Hmong language motivates the literati to work tirelessly in order to forge their own unique identity and rise to prominence as a valuable genre worthy of mainstream attention and formal study.
Time will tell whether or not any of these literary genres emerge to mainstream prominence, but the question of permanence does not squelch the fact that they are still growing and evolving this very minute. No matter their origins or life span, however, the one thing all these movements share is a desire to express specific ideas and aesthetics to a readership. They have stories that need telling, and audiences who need to read them.