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Intellect

Forum: A novel idea: How genre evolution sparks creativity

Chris Crowe, English professor at Brigham Young University, delivered Tuesday’s forum address. He discussed the ongoing genre-bending of young adult novels and how flexible perceptions of these genres, or commonly accepted essential traits, can generate more creative literature.

More broadly, he emphasized that accepting inevitable change in the defining characteristics of creative fields is crucial to innovation and progression.

Crowe, winner of BYU’s 2020–21 Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award, began his address by acknowledging his longtime view on contemporary art. Having visited several art museums over the years, he often came away underwhelmed. This was because he believed that most of it lacked the defining or traditional characteristics of what constitutes art. His perspective, though, is changing due to an understanding and acceptance that key traits evolve.

Chris Crowe forum

As important as core traits are to understanding what defines something, Crowe stated that those characteristics are not usually static. He referenced his experiences observing nontraditional contemporary art, works that go against the grain often generate more “thought, discussion, and interest” than their traditional counterparts.

From his own expertise of both crafting and extensively studying young adult literature, he outlined some of the advancements in his field over the past few decades.

“Trying to contain the creative evolution of young adult literature is like trying to draw boundaries on water,” he said.

He has since implemented these patterns of evolution in his own writing.

For example, Crowe’s most recently published novel, “Death Coming Up the Hill,” was written entirely in haiku stanzas. Each syllable represents one American soldier who died in the Vietnam War in 1968. He also is working on another novel in verse, excerpts of which were performed at the forum by previous students of Crowe.

“If I hadn’t already been familiar with all the genre-bending, boundary-blurring artistic work that came before, I could not have possibly conceived of something like this weird little haiku novel,” he said.

Crowe suggests that the redefinition of young adult novels from rigidly defined attributes to an ongoing fluid state breathes life into them. A willingness to ask questions about what traits constitute a novel and then stretching the limits can lead to non-traditional gems in literature.

Although genres are useful, they need not be seen as a restriction on the creativity of writing, art and other projects.

“I invite you to think about genre and your expectations of what a novel must be and how boundaries can be bent,” Crowe said.

Next Address

Steven Harper, professor of Church history and doctrine, will deliver the devotional address on June 8 at 11:05 a.m.

His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYUradio 107.9 FM and SiriusXM 143.

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