As our founding fathers were signing the Declaration of
Independence, Benjamin Franklin was staring at a chair. On the back was carved an image of the sun; Dr. Franklin was trying to ascertain whether the sun was setting or rising and if that was a portent of doom or a beacon of hope for the fledgling nation. More than two centuries later many Americans are deploring the upheaval in world of the printed word. But are these changes a harbinger of literary decline, or the dawn of a new age?
Throughout history technological advancements have altered the literary landscape. Gutenberg’s printing press was a quantum leap for the written word and quill pen-wielding monks in monasteries were no longer the primary means of reproducing manuscripts. Without the printing press literary works such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales would never had been so widely read, nor would they have inspired a whole new generation of writers resulting in a marked transformation in the evolution of literature. Today the word processor and personal computer have made it even easier and a whole new pool of writers have joined in.
Many of us in the older generation have been lamenting the loss of our literary traditions. Bookstores are closing, publishers are struggling, and newspapers are seeing readership decline. While we are bemoaning the sea changes wrought by the technological revolution, a new generation has been embracing its advances. Rather than shrinking the literary marketplace, the internet has created an unprecedented need for content. Literature is not dying; books such as the Harry Potter series have enthralled legions of young readers. Interest in writing is not declining, it is thriving.
Here in Las Vegas there are many local writers groups including the Henderson Writers Group and the Las Vegas Writers Group, which has an active roster of more than three hundred members. Creative writing courses at the University of Nevada Las Vegas were so much in demand this spring that extra classes were added in both basic and advanced writing. UNLV also boasts one of the country’s most highly regarded creative writing programs at the Masters Degree level. Attendance at the Vegas Valley Book Festival seems to grow every year and many successful authors call the Las Vegas area home.
Writing and literature are not dead; they are changing just as they always have. Rather than mourn the loss of what is gone or fading into the past, embrace the wonders that are yet to come. As Benjamin Franklin said those many years ago, “now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”