University of the South Hosts Industry Conference

From the website of the Sewanee Writers Conference:

For over two decades, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference has helped talented writers better understand their craft, learning from the best minds in the industry.

Learn more about our story, meet our preeminent faculty and wonderful staff, and apply to join us in 2014.

Those links are live, so see for yourself — note that you can even apply to join in 2014, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, known to those who fought and died in it as “the Great War.”  Great, here, means big, of course.

But before you apply, consider a couple of lists:

  • Samuel Beckett, industrialist
  • Ernest Hemingway, industrialist
  • Gertrude Stein, industrialist
  • William Faulkner, industrialist
  • Katherine Anne Porter, industrialist
  • Mark Twain, industrialist
  • Flannery O’Connor, industrialist
  • Simone de Beauvoir, industrialist
  • Albert Camus, industrialist
  • Herman Melville, industrialist
  • Thomas Mann, industrialist
  • Edgar Poe, industrialist
  • Marcel Proust, industrialist
  • Colette, indusrtialist

Those are just a few of the major industrialists of 20th century writing.  Here’s another list, with a few more:

  • Tom Clancy, industrialist
  • Nora Roberts, industrialist
  • Erle Stanley Gardner, industrialist
  • Agatha Christie, industrialist
  • Ian Fleming, industrialist
  • Stephen King, industrialist
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs, industrialist
  • Lester Dent, industrialist
  • Jackie Collins, industrialist
  • Zane Grey, industrialist
  • Louis L’Amour, industrialist

Now this list looks a lot more like a list of industrialists than did our first one.  Why do you suppose that is?

I’ve absolutely nothing against writing as an industry, having participated in it for three decades.  I am not anywhere near as successful monetarily as our second set of captains of industry, but that’s because my industry — trade publications, direct mail, copywriting, technical writing — has, overall, a much lower profile than Agatha Christie’s and Zane Grey’s.  No one is likely to adapt An Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing in DeKalb County 2010 into the next blockbusting spectacular extravaganza of wasted creative ability — not anytime soon.  (They could do so very cheaply — that report is a public document!)

But if I’ve learned anything in the writing industry, I’ve learned that words are real, and words have real meanings, and if we ignore those real meanings we are apt to gang aft agley, as Bobbie Burns once said.

Hold that thought for a moment, and recall that in the old days of the writing industry, guys like Maxwell Perkins and Katherine Mansfield and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Alfred A. Knopf did not use to be industrialists, and writing — at least, the kind of writing that they talk about at writers conferences like Sewanee’s — wasn’t really considered an industry. Indeed, the industry aspect of the undertaking generally received short shrift. No, in those days most of these people considered themselves to be engaged in a profession.

Now, I can hear you: “What, oh what, is the difference this time, Eddy?! You always want to slice these mouse turds!”

Let’s surf over to the Online Etymology Dictionary to see if the history of the English language has any bearing on these writers conferences. There, let’s peruse first, the meaning of the noun profession:

c.1200, “vows taken upon entering a religious order,” from Old French profession (12c.), from Latin professionem (nominative professio) “public declaration,” from past participle stem of profiteri “declare openly” (see profess). Meaning “any solemn declaration” is from mid-14c. Meaning “occupation one professes to be skilled in” is from early 15c.; meaning “body of persons engaged in some occupation” is from 1610; as a euphemism for “prostitution” (e.g. oldest profession) it is recorded from 1888.

Pretty impressive! A profession is some kind of religious thing!  And we even get into a little titillation there at the end.  That’s always good for the industry!

Next, let’s check out our other noun, industry:

late 15c., “cleverness, skill,” from Old French industrie “activity; aptitude” (14c.) or directly from Latin industria “diligence, activity, zeal,” fem. of industrius “industrious, diligent,” used as a noun, from early Latin indostruus “diligent,” from indu “in, within” + stem of struere “to build” (see structure (n.)). Sense of “diligence, effort” is from 1530s; meaning “trade or manufacture” first recorded 1560s; that of “systematic work” is 1610s.

Hmmm. That’s not quite as impressive. In fact, it brings to mind one of the early scenes in Fight Club — the one in which Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden asks our unnamed narrator, played by Edward Norton: “How’s that working out for you? — being ‘clever.'”

Well, gang, what’s your answer?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *