I’m pasting below a letter I received today from the only genuine writer of erotica I know, who graduated from the Stonecoast MFA program the same semester as her pal, the estimable Susan Lilley. I asked her in my note to help us find the path to real literary erotica and away from Ms. McNaughty. I hit paydirt, as you will see.
Here’s the reply of Ann Rosenquist Fee:
OH PHIL, what timing!! I’m at the Minneapolis airport with a few hours to spare, waiting for a fellow Stonecoast grad to arrive from New York so we can teach, tomorrow at the Loft Literary Center, a one-day workshop called Sex on the Page. The class is a product of our final Stonecoast presentation, in which I presented Ann’s Theory of Erotic Truth (an original blend of theories from French philosopher Georges Bataille and erotica writer/editor Susie Bright), and then my co-presenter, Ellen Neuborne, and I used that as a lens to help students judge what works and what doesn’t in their own and others’ erotic scenes, and then showed how to use that lens to create the most powerful, efficient and relevant erotic scenes possible in service to story. In short, our theory mandates that in order for erotic art to succeed, it needs two things: 1) an element of transgression, either in content or form (and we mean REAL transgression, smart transgression, not purportedly naughty sex, which doesn’t surprise us at all, really — transgression as in a conventional narrative that suddenly becomes a panting list of phrases and fragments when a kiss is described, because such a break in form embodies and shows-versus-tells how the character experiences this moment differently than, say, walking down the street) and 2) a fecundity, a transcendence, a fertility to the scene that both slams the reader into his/her own body and also sends them to an entirely other place, which, in sum, should be more/different than what porn achieves, and always in service to the larger story.
Here ere are some suggestions straight from the outline I’m prepping right now.
Texts that get at the theory…
Georges Bataille, Erotism: Death and Sensuality
Susie Bright, Full Exposure: Opening Up to Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression
Susie Bright, The Sexual State of the Union
Jean Paulhan’s foreword to Story of O
Diana Widmaier Picasso, Picasso: Art Can Only Be Erotic
Examples of powerful and artful erotic writing…
Best American Erotica collections edited by Susie Bright (especially 2006 with “Talk About Sex: An Orientation” by Jamie Cat Callan)
Any Cleis Press erotica collection edited by Alison Tyler
Judy Blume, Forever
Cris Mazza, “Is It Sexual Harassment Yet” from Normal: Fiction Collective Two (1998)
Anais Nin, House of Incest
Pauline Reage, Story of O
Jeanette Winterson, Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles
Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body
And here’s the link to the Loft class description…
…in case you decide Rollins or some other entity needs Sex on the Page. Ellen and I are pitching it to conferences around the country – we were thrilled to have the Loft as our first taker.
Hello to superstar Susan, please, and to Paul next time you’re in touch. Writerly vibes to you all…