October 17, 2016
Fifty Shades of Great: The Establishment of the Good Sex in Fiction Award
by Ryan Harrington
It is high awards season in literature. The National Book Awards will be announced in less than a month. And, as you know and have tweeted about by now, American troubadour Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last week. Surely Dylan’s coronation is a point won for the literature of the common man. But are there any literary awards that are really just for the great unwashed?
Since 1993 the hoi polloi have found spiritual nourishment in the Bad Sex in Fiction Award — presented annually by the Literary Review. In 2015 that award went to Morrissey (which, 1. leave the guy alone for a second. Now I know how Joan of Arc felt, sheesh. And 2. Let’s give the guy a goddamn Nobel Prize. Keats and Yeats are on your side, my man!).
But that nourishment, along with so many of our common values, is under siege. That’s because the Erotic Review is establishing a Good Sex in Fiction Award in protest. “We have laughed enough,” said the Review’s publisher Lisa Moylett, “We are throwing down the gauntlet. No more ‘bad sex’ writing. That is not something we should be celebrating.” It would make us have to think of sex as art — an idea that could leave a lot of boys with thorns in their side.
But Moylett’s vision is noble: to see erotic writing transcend genre limitations, rather than seeing it gagged and bound in the dungeon of erotic fiction. And beyond the literary ramifications of the new prize, celebrating excellent, artistic writing about sex, might help us talk about sex a bit more comfortably and serve as an anti-dote to the darker unrealities of online pornography. Perhaps the recent canonization of the Marquis de Sade is just the first step in a longer march.
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.