Considering how many fine writers, how many great story-tellers, there are in the US, I think we, as a nation, should work to create more star authors. The ratio between very famous authors to “midlist” authors is pretty vast, too vast. The ratio between star authors and struggling authors “paying their dues” (living in poverty and starving or doing a really boring day job) is staggering in its enormity.
I have been reading Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, and Lehrer points out we know how to foster creativity and we know how to foster an environment that creates and pays highly many, many great athletes. When I was in high school, the student body attended an assembly every single week which was devoted to promoting the school football team. Of course this team was all male, used very expensive equipment (while our library had few books), and there were no sports teams for girls until some girls fought to have a girls’ basketball team–which was not celebrated every single week. There were cheerleaders for the football team, and the school band existed to laud the football team, band and cheerleaders performing every week at the football rally as well as at the football games. Pay attention to that, students learning music, learning to play musical instruments, were secondary in status to boys throwing a ball around and tackling each other. The boys who could throw a ball around and tackle each other knew that there were lucrative college scholarships and careers awaiting them, even if they couldn’t read, let alone read music. My hometown produced football champion Doug Flutie (who was a wiz at arithmetic), maintaining the town motto “Home of Champions.”
The school provided an enormous budget for the football team, required attendance to all weekly football rallies, and devoted the school band and the primary female athletic group—the cheerleaders—to performing for the football rallies and games. As a student, I protested that I was forced to miss my English class every week for the sake of the football team. The school listened and changed class schedules so they would rotate so we would not miss state required educational classes to attend a football rally. I also asked that there be a rally complete with band music for our award winning competitive speech team. That was flatly denied.
What if those compulsory weekly rallies had lauded the band members for their music, the cheerleaders for their routines, the competitive speech team for its wins, and the students receiving high grades in English? What if that enormous football budget were spent on the library (as a group of teachers and parents advocated) and on extracurricular writing programs led by a specially trained writing coach. Suppose high schools performed the students’ plays as frequently as high school football teams have games. Consider an America where the students of English would know that colleges would fight over them, luring them with lucrative scholarships for bringing prestige to the colleges for the stories and articles printed in the college newspaper and literary journals. As soon as the student writers graduated, publishers and newspapers would pounce on these rising stars of letters with lucrative contracts because of the huge dollars great books and great journalism bring. Instead of building stadiums for boys to throw balls and tackle each other, cities would build complexes of auditoriums and theaters so the crowds could hear their favorite authors speak, read their works, and have troupes perform their plays more often than once a year at the book fair. Cities and towns would take pride in their local journalists, authors, and playwrights and brag on them with town mottos like “Home of the Eloquent,” “Home of Authors,” “Home of Literary Luminaries.” Many more great writers would achieve stardom. Best of all, America would become literate!
The boys who throw balls and tackle each other would be expected to “pay their dues”(live in poverty and starve or hold a mind-taxing day job till they get their big break) if they insist on becoming pro-football players.