The gathering storm of Boomer Literature. An interview with Claude Nougat. Part 1

Claude Nougat
Claude Nougat

At the end of 2012, Boomer lit suddenly became the talk of the town, starting with an article written by Claude Nougat and published by Boomer Café, in which she predicted that this new genre would trend in 2013. The article was picked by several high-traffic websites, including The Passive Voice, The Kindle Nation Daily, Digital Book Today, Gawker Media and of course by us here at Caleb and Linda Pirtle.

Since it is a hot new genre, I expected it to be a moving feast, in constant flux, and I was curious about it. I wanted to know where it was going and the best person to ask was author Claude Nougat herself since she is the one who made the prediction about Boomer lit. And she is also the author of A Hook in the Sky, a book that was reviewed by our Stephen Woodfin who found it to be “quintessential boomer lit”. We had several interesting conversations and here is a first installment.

Caleb: Here at Caleb and Linda Pirtle, we consider you as the initiator and driving force behind a new genre in writing: Boomer lit. Do you have any idea why it happened that starting in December 2012, everyone began talking about Boomer lit?

Claude: No idea at all! It was very strange, suddenly the idea went viral. Of course I had been working on it for several months, starting in September with setting up a thread in the Kindle Forums where boomer authors can list their work. And in October I had started a group on Goodreads to discuss it. As I pointed out in the Boomer Café article, within just four weeks, the Goodreads Group had attracted some 50 members, plus twice as many “friends,” and 16 Baby Boomer novels had been listed on its bookshelf, many from well-known, bestselling authors, like Anne R. Allen, Kathleen Valentine, Saffina Desforges, and Rachel Joyce. That was really fast! And today the group has close to 230 members with over 65 boomer book titles on the Group’s bookshelf. Two weeks ago, I started a Facebook Page for the Group – it already has 187 “likes”- and then launched an account on Twitter  at @boomerlit that gathered 453 followers in just one week!

Caleb: That’s certainly a very fast growth! It sounds like you really worked hard at it. Are you doing this all on your own?

Baby Boomers are changing the face of the world.
Baby Boomers are changing the face of the world.

Claude:  No, thank God, I’ve got help, really good help! First, I have been lucky to be contacted by some friendly websites like yours. It’s so good to have the support of people like you who are genuinely interested in the concept. And most importantly, some persons have offered to help me moderate our Goodreads Group and the Facebook Page, I really welcome the support! Now on Goodreads I have Abigail Padgett and Marsha Roberts, both talented authors of boomer novels – they help me with various aspects of the Group’s activities, Abigail with organizing boomer book reviews and Marsha with an “Authors-like-Authors” program for boomer writers to support each other on social media.  On Facebook, with Libby Fischer Hellmann, I have the able advice of another talented author who is also technically savvy, she’s put together a fantastic banner picture, go take a look!

Caleb: Nice, I did take a look…

Claude: I hope you clicked the “like” button!

Caleb: I did! But you’ll have to agree that the concept of Boomer lit hasn’t gone main stream yet – for that it would perhaps need an imprint from a traditional publisher or from Amazon – but it certainly looks like it’s on its way.

Claude: I hope so! I’d love nothing better than to see one of the Big Five publishers set up a Boomer lit imprint, or Amazon create a Boomer lit category. But you’re right, Boomer lit is not quite there yet, it has still some hurdles to overcome, not least of them the stigma attached to old age. That something I really want to emphasize: Boomer lit is not literature for the elderly and dying, though of course boomer books may feature such characters too. Boomer lit is meant to be the literary expression of choice for the boomer generation that is now passing the 50 year-old mark: today, the youngest boomer is 49, the oldest is 67, and boomers are hitting retirement at the rate of 3.5 million per year, that’s about 10,000 every day!

Caleb: I know, boomers are technically defined by demographers as those born between 1946 and 1964, some 77.5 million, that’s a huge market.

Bob Dylan's music spurred on the protests of the 1960s.
Bob Dylan’s music spurred on the protests of the 1960s.

Claude: Yes, huge. And boomers control 75% of America’s wealth. But size and economic power is not all there is to it. Boomers have been a special generation in our culture, the first to rebel in a systemic manner to their parents’ generation as the history of the 1960s and 70s amply shows: civil rights, feminism, the gay revolution, the rise of ecology, anti-war protest and more. Slogans like “make love, not war”, emancipation of the downtrodden, the defence of the poor, the preservation of our planet’s eco-system, the conservation of ancient cultures and the creation of explosive new cultural trends that broke with the past – all this tumult, this sea change in society’s values, can be ascribed to the boomer generation.

Caleb: You have argued that boomers were behind the success of Young Adult literature…

Claude: Absolutely! YA lit took off as a best-selling genre in the 1960s and especially the 1970s. Wikipedia’s entry on YA lit is interesting: it gives credit to The Outsiders, published in 1967 by S. E. Hinton as the initiator of the “adolescent literature genre”, as they put it. Personally, I don’t think it happened quite that way. A genre isn’t born with a single book, it’s like a gathering storm, with many events that all contribute to it. I think you need to look at major best-selling books that were published earlier and set the stage. Notably The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies, both published in the 1950s. Then in 1960, a major novel was published that quickly became a milestone in American literature, I’m speaking of course of How to Kill a Mockingbird.

Caleb: But that’s not YA at all! It’s a bildungsroman about racial prejudice, it features a couple of children, their father…

Claude: You’re right, it’s not properly YA but with that book, certain features that have become characteristic of YA lit became sought after: the destruction of innocence as a pervasive theme and the use of a non-adult point of view – the book is written from a child’s point of view but at the same time, in a cleverly ambiguous way, it encompasses the value judgments of the young woman Harper Lee was when she wrote it. From there, it’s a small step to the central theme of YA lit: coming of age. By the 1970s, YA lit was in full swing with the publication of the so-called “fab fives.”

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