Topic challenges for Literature SE were first proposed and enacted in March 2017. The motivation for these, as well as to bring our users together in a community activity of reading the same books or stories together at roughly the same time, is to increase the diversity of literature covered on our site, as well as perhaps our own diversity of reading material.

We ran 26 topic challenges, with varying degrees of success, between April 2017 and July 2019, each one lasting for one month. After that we had a brief hiatus to discuss the issue of waning participation, and then re-ignited the topic challenges in October 2019 under a new system, which is described as follows.

Each topic challenge lasts for two months, and is announced one month in advance. Each month a new one begins, so that at any given time, there should be two overlapping topic challenges ongoing.

Topic challenges are proposed by posting an answer to this very meta question - everyone feel free to join in with an answer below! Each month the highest-voted answer will be chosen and a new meta post will be created for that topic challenge.

Guidelines for Voting on a Topic Challenge

Voting on these challenges is pretty simple, but make sure you do it with care and thought.

If the post fulfills the spirit of the reading challenge, and does indeed offer exposure to culture or thought that many people might not otherwise see, we'd suggest voting up.

If the post does not fulfill the spirit of the reading challenge, and does not offer exposure to new culture or thought, then we'd suggest voting down. And maybe leave a comment about why you're not sure it's a helpful challenge suggestion, because it's possible someone just misunderstood the purpose behind this.

The above is copied from the original thread. From the 2019 discussion, another potential criterion for topic challenge success emerged: the existence of shorter works that are available online as part of the challenge. Thus it might be suggested to bear this in mind when voting: a topic challenge is generally more likely to be a success if it includes some shorter works available online. But of course, feel free to vote however you see fit. Diversity of topics is the most important criterion.

Guidelines for Suggesting a Topic Challenge

Here are the most important principles, again taken from the original 2017 thread and the 2019 discussion. The bullet points below are also largely inspired by the original 2017 thread, but I've edited quite heavily for brevity.

Your challenge suggestion can be... honestly, whatever you'd like it to be. Please do make challenges that fall outside of what users of the site might predominantly already read. That's sort of why we're doing this.

Post more proposals for shorter works that are available online. This makes the proposal more accessible to everyone. The potential downside to this suggestion is that it may be harder to find find non-English texts, especially non-English texts that are also available in an English translation, especially online, unless the content is so old that it is in the public domain.

When you propose a topic challenge, please consider the following:

  • Why is this topic interesting? A short explanation to motivate people to take part in it is helpful. Motivations might include learning about a culture which is represented in, or which produced, that work of literature, or listing different types of interesting questions that might arise about it.
  • What is included? If the challenge is wider than a single book or story - e.g. an author, or a wider set of works such as a genre - please try to include at least a partial list of some works included. Ideally, with links: either to more information about those works, or (if possible and legal) to sites where the works themselves are available to be read.
  • Describe the sort of prior knowledge you think would be helpful to have. Please be mindful of the difficulty some texts pose. If a text would be valuable to study, but has a knowledge and time barrier that makes the book unreasonably difficult to delve into for someone outside of it, it may not be a good fit for a reading challenge.
  • Please remember that the minimum age for the site is 13, and a percentage of our users are young, so please, within reason, attempt to suggest books that are not too graphic, or contain inordinate amounts of strong language. This doesn't mean that the book can't have language, but please keep this in mind.

Currently Ongoing Topic Challenges

Upcoming Topic Challenge

Previous Topic Challenges

Older ones (one-month topic challenges) are listed in the older meta post.

  • 2
    Why a new meta post for this? Because we've rebooted the topic challenges in a slightly different system, not all of the stuff in the old post still applies, the list was getting long, and - perhaps most importantly - votes were stagnating on the old post. The hope is that, with a fresh new start, we can re-attract people's interest to posting and voting on proposals in answers.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Apr 19, 2020 at 12:04

22 Answers 22


The works of August Wilson

Theater (other than Shakespeare) is somewhat underrepresented on our site, and August Wilson's works are particularly relevant now in light of recent events. August Wilson (1945 – 2005) received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and a number of other awards.

(Posted on 25 June 2020.)


The works of Ales Adamovich

Ales Adamovich (1927 – 1994) was a Belarusian writer and critic. Film buffs know him as the author of the screenplay for the anti-war film Come and See (1985) (see The Scariest Film Ever Made ISN'T a Horror Film on YouTube). His publications include the following:

According to Wikipedia, Svetlana Alexievich was influenced by Adamovich:

According to Russian writer and critic Dmitry Bykov, her books owe much to the ideas of Belarusian writer Ales Adamovich, who felt that the best way to describe the horrors of the 20th century was not by creating fiction but through recording the testimonies of witnesses.

(Posted on 6 March 2021.)

  • I agree that a focus on Belarus would be good (and timely). EJoshuaS's broader suggestion would encompass this one. Is there a good reason to focus on a single author rather than on Belarusian literature generally? Would a more focused approach be more helpful, or would a broader theme attract more questions and attention?
    – verbose
    May 25, 2021 at 2:25
  • @verbose "All of Belarusian literature" simply lacks focus, in my opinion.
    – Tsundoku Mod
    May 25, 2021 at 9:25

Native Australian stories and traditions

Historically experienced significant discrimination.

An example of a book is The Speaking Land: Myth and Story in Aboriginal Australia by Ronald and Catherine Berndt.


Cheese by Willem Elsschot

Everybody likes cheese, so why not read a novel about it? Cheese (in Dutch: Kaas, 1933) is a novel by the Flemish author Willem Elsschot (1882-1960) in which the main character, Frans Laarmans, a clerk, decides to become a sales agent in cheese. Without spoiling too much, I just want to say that he is out of his depth in this job.

Willem Elsschot wrote several other novels, all of which are relatively short. Cheese is "the most translated Flemish novel ever" (see Flanders Literature, where you can find a sample of the 2002 English translation).

Reviewer Chris Baker wrote,

Cheese is one of the very few comic novels that is able to escape its era and its culture. Though written almost seventy years ago, its situations are as fresh as today's office place.

It's a delectable novel ;-)

(Originally suggested on the old post on 4 April 2020.)

  • Copied from the old list. Say "cheese"! ;-)
    – Tsundoku Mod
    Apr 21, 2020 at 11:01

Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal, sometimes called Allama Iqbal or Iqbal-e Lahori, was a 19th-to-20th-century Muslim multilingual poet, philosopher, and politician, one of the most important figures in Urdu poetry and also influential in Farsi poetry, the so-called "Poet of the East" and national poet of Pakistan. He is considered an important figure in the cultural and political history of several countries:

  • In Pakistan, his birthday Iqbal Day was a public holiday until 2018. He was a major figure in promoting the idea of an independent Pakistan even in the 1930s, and he is still honoured as the national poet of Pakistan.
  • In Iran, his work was popular especially in the 1950s to 1980s, and Ayatollah Khomeini said that "We have a large number of non-Persian-speaking poets in the history of our literature, but I cannot point out any of them whose poetry possesses the qualities of Iqbal's Persian poetry. [...] In spite of not having tasted the Persian way of life, never living in the cradle of Persian culture, and never having any direct association with it, he cast with great mastery the most delicate, the most subtle and radically new philosophical themes into the mould of Persian poetry, some of which are unsurpassable yet."
  • He was awarded a knighthood by Britain (his acceptance of which was criticised by some others in British India) for his poetry written in Farsi.

Iqbal wrote poetry primarily in Farsi in the earlier part of his career, starting in 1915, but after 1930 most of his works were in Urdu. He also wrote two non-fiction books and many letters in English, and some poetry in Punjabi. His writings cover philosophical, religious, social, political, and moral issues. He received a BA from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from the University of Munich, and spent some time working as a professor and as a lawyer as well as writing poetry.

A topic challenge on this poet would be able to feature several different language tags and explore a variety of cultures and viewpoints through his literature.

Originally posted on 19 November 2020.


Chingiz Aitmatov

Chingiz Torekulovich Aitmatov is one of the most famous figures in Kyrgyz literature. He wrote in both Kyrgyz and Russian, and many of his works have been translated into other languages including English.

His most well-known stories include The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years, about which we had an ID question here, and Jamila / Jamilia, a romance set in rural Kyrgyzstan during World War Two. (The French poet Louis Aragon described Jamilia as "the most beautiful love story in the world".) His works are of varying length, some called short stories, some novellas, and some novels.

See also his Goodreads page.

(Posted on 14 October 2020.)


The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

The Scottish R L Stevenson (1850–1894) was greatly popular during his lifetime. For most of the 20th C., however, writers and critics considered his work rather second-rate. But recently his works have begun to attract critical attention again, undoing what Margot Livesey, writing in the November 1994 issue of The Atlantic, called "the long process by which Stevenson's work has been devalued". As Stevenson's works begins to regain critical favor, he also deserves to regain the wide readership he once enjoyed.

Stevenson's writings run the gamut:

Besides, in each of these genres, his works span a wide range. For example, his novels include children's stories (Treasure Island, 1883); horror (The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 1886); historical fiction (Kidnapped); social realism (The Weir of Hermiston, 1896). Stevenson has something to offer every reader.

The range of genres is matched by a range of settings. Stevenson traveled widely. His works are set in Scotland (Kidnapped); England (Jekyll and Hyde); Continental Europe (Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, 1879); the USA (The Amateur Emigrant); the South Seas (Eight Years in Samoa, 1892). His portrait of the exploitation of the South Sea Islanders has led postcolonial critics to value him as an early anti-imperialist voice.

Above all, Stevenson is eminently readable. In his novels, for example, the plots can be action-packed to the point of melodrama, making them exceptionally gripping. That quality makes it easy to overlook the beauty his prose style. Stevenson is among the very greatest stylists of the English language. These few sentences from the opening chapter of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde capture perfectly the nature of the friendship between the dry-as-dust Gabriel Utterson and the man-about-town Richard Enfield:

It was a nut to crack for many, what these to could see in each other, or what subject they could find in common. It was reported by those who encountered them in their Sunday walks, that they said nothing, looked singularly dull, and would hail with obvious relief the appearance of a friend. For all that, the two men put the greatest store by these excursions, counted them the chief jewel of each week, and not only set aside occasions of pleasure, but even resisted the calls of business, that they might enjoy them uninterrupted.

Stevenson piles irony upon irony in this description. The bit about "would hail with obvious relief the appearance of a friend" is laugh-out-loud funny. Yet the very precise twist at the end, where we learn that the men won't give up their mutual Sunday walk even if they could easily plead the necessity of work, tells us that there is a genuine bond of affection here. This sort of double perspective is hard to pull off, and Stevenson does it without breaking a sweat. Few writers rise to this level of expertise in handling the resources of the language.

The variety of genre, form, and setting that Stevenson's work means that he has something to offer practically every reader. The trajectory of critical attitudes to his work, from celebratory to dismissive to rediscovery, also makes him an interesting subject. Finally, his works are out of copyright and freely available at the RLS website. For these reasons, I think he is a good candidate for a topic challenge.

(Posted on 1 December 2020.)


Suggested by user37920 (in a now deleted meta post):

The works of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay (1894 – 1950) was an author from West Bengal in India and his works are mostly set in rural Bengal. According to the British poet and critic Martin Seymour-Smith, author of Guide to Modern World Literature (1973), Bandyopadhyay was "perhaps the best of all modern Indian novelists", adding that "probably nothing in twentieth-century Indian literature, in prose or poetry, comes to the level of Pather Panchali".

His works include the following:

  • Pather Panchali, an autobiographical novel published in 1929, which brought him to prominence,
  • Chander Pahar, "one of the most-loved adventure novels in the Bengali literature" (Wikipedia), published in 1937,
  • Aranyak (literally "Of the Forest"), a novel that "explores the journey of the protagonist Satyacharan in the dichotomy of the urban and jungle lives" (Wikipedia).

(Posted on 6 October 2020.)


The Works of Thomas Middleton, "our other Shakespeare"

Thomas Middleton (1580 – 1627) was one of the most prolific Jacobean playwrights but is less well known because his work, unlike that of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, was never published in a folio edition. He wrote at least thirteen plays by himself and collaborated on numerous others. They include

The first critical edition of his works, Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works edited by Gary Tailor and John Lavagnino, was published in 2007. Gary Taylor has called Middleton "our other Shakespeare" and said in an article on Florida State University's new pages,

Middleton’s work should resonate with contemporary audiences, given his themes of money, politics and sex, and his dialogue, which is easier than Shakespeare’s on the modern ear. (...) Middleton’s plays read like they could have been written yesterday.

Those who want to read Middleton's plays online and for free can do so on Chris Cleary's website The Plays of Thomas Middleton (1580-1627).

(Posted on 7 May 2020.)


Alberto Moravia

I wish to propose the name of Alberto Moravia, pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle (born 28 Nov 1907, died 26 Sep 1990, both in Rome, Italy). His works are available online.

This Italian journalist, short-story writer, and novelist is known for his fictional portrayal of social alienation and loveless sexuality. He was a major figure in 20th-century Italian literature. His major works are:

  • Agostino (1945)
  • Two friends
  • Boredom (1960)
  • The time of indifference (1929)
  • The conformist (1947)
  • Journey to Rome (1988)
  • Roman tales (1954)

The woman of Rome is a 1947 novel by Alberto Moravia about the intersecting lives of many characters, chief among them a prostitute (whose mother is also a prostitute) and an idealistic intellectual who, after an interrogation by the Fascist forces, betrays his colleagues.

(Posted on 26 November 2020 by user37920.)

  • This is a good proposal and I've upvoted it, but nobody gets to decide in advance when a topic challenge will take place. People just make proposals and the votes decide.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Nov 30, 2020 at 19:49

The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed

This book was written by a computer. That throws out a lot of possible ways to approach questions - authorial intent, in particular, becomes irrelevant - and introduces some fascinating new approaches: knowledge of computer science and artificial intelligence might be as useful as literature expertise.

Simply exploring and thinking about how to ask and answer questions here would be an interesting experience. Not much point trying to ask about plot, as there is none, but the book could be analysed in other ways, such as why certain patterns appear in the choice of words, or which existing works of literature might have inspired some of the names or passages.

It's also a perfect delight to read, at least for anyone who appreciates the weird and wacky. Consider the following excerpts from the text, and try to keep a straight face while reading them:

RICHARD. A week is obscurely like a night.
BUCKINGHAM. My Lord, chicken is like lamb.
RICHARD. Yet weeks can be killed as can chicken.
BUCKINGHAM. Tis true, my Liege, yet ambiguities adorn our pain as ambiguities broaden our issues.

There once was a furry brown noun
Had window shades which could not pound
They excreted and boggled
But still always goggled
But please sadly call them a crown

Tomatoes from England and lettuce from Canada are eaten by cosmologists from Russia. I dream implacably about this concept. Nevertheless tomatoes or lettuce inevitably can come leisurely from my home, not merely from England or Canada. My solicitor spoke that to me; I recognized it. My fatherland is France, and I trot coldly while bolting some lobster on the highway to my counsellor. He yodels a dialogue with me about neutrons or about his joy. No agreements here! We sip seltzer and begin a conversation. Intractably our dialogue enrages us. Strangely my attorney thinks and I gulp slowly and croon, "Do you follow me?"

Reading this book will guarantee you a good laugh, and Q&A about it will guarantee our site some new perspectives and ways of analysing a very unusual piece of literature.

  • Copied from the old list, where it was a bit controversial in voting. I've edited the blurb a bit to try to justify it more as a topic challenge.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    May 5, 2020 at 8:37

The works of Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid is an Antiguan-American novelist and essayist who grew up in poor conditions but managed to become a published author and a professor at Harvard University. At the age of 16, she was sent to New York City to work as an au pair and she started attending evening classes at a community college. Later, she started writing for a teenage girls' magazine and eventually got employed as a staff writer by The New Yorker.

She has a unique style that has sometimes been described as magic realism, a label that she doesn't find an accurate description. Giovanna Covi described Kincaid' style as follows:

The tremendous strength of Kincaid's stories lies in their capacity to resist all canons. They move at the beat of a drum and the rhythm of jazz…

Kincaid's works include the following:

  • "Girl" (short story, The New Yorker, 1978)
  • "In the Night" (short story, The New Yorker, 1978)
  • "Wingless" (short story, The New Yorker, 1979)
  • At the Bottom of the River (short stories, 1983)
  • Annie John (novel, 1985)
  • Lucy (novel, 1990)
  • The Autobiography of My Mother (novel, 1996)
  • Mr Potter (novel, 2002)
  • See Now Then (novel, 2013)

Katja Kettu

Katja Maaria Kettu is a Finnish author, originally from Rovaniemi in Lapland, "one of the most acclaimed authors in Finland today", who's written a number of novels.

Her most famous work is Kätilö (The Midwife), which has been translated into several languages, adapted to a film, and won widespread acclaim - see reviews at Words Without Borders and Goodreads. The Goodreads reviews range from positive to negative, but much of the criticism seems to be based on the difficulty of following the story without knowing some details of Finland's participation in WW2 (consisting of at least three separate conflicts: the Winter War, the Continuation War, and the Lapland War), while learning something about this history as part of reading a story actually makes it more appealing, in my view, as long as you're prepared beforehand to have to do that. Apparently the story doesn't skimp on gore and explicit descriptions - it's about a midwife in wartime, after all - so be prepared for that too. A sample English translation is available online.

All of our site's questions so far are from the Kalevala, a previous topic challenge. It'll be nice to have some more modern Finnish literature represented too, and to learn something about a different part of Finnish history and culture.


The works of Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich is a Nobel Prize-winning Belarusian journalist and author. (While this is related to my proposal for Belarusian literature, my understanding is that her books were largely written in Russian, so they would likely fall outside of the scope of the previous proposal).

Several particularly well-known books by her include:

  • Could you include links to translations or for more information about these books?
    – bobble
    Mar 6, 2021 at 22:14

The Works of Carlo Goldoni

Carlo Goldoni (1707 – 1793) was a playwright and librettist who lived in the Republic of Venice. His libretti include one for La finta semplice, an opera Mozart composed at the age of 12, and one for Vivaldi's opera Griselda. His best-known play is possibly The Servant of Two Masters, which draws on the tradition of the commedia dell'arte.

Online versions of some of his works include the following:


Uyghur literature

In my tradition of taking jabs at authoritarian regimes, I would like to propose that we study Uyghur literature, a minority group in China that is currently heavily persecuted by the government.

There's a list here that seems decent.


Native American and Canadian oral traditions

The treatment of native Canadians has been in the news quite a bit lately. I would like to propose the oral traditions, myths, and literature of native Americans and Canadians.

A few examples of books I was able to find on Amazon:

  • Native American Folklore & Traditions by Elsie Clews Parson
  • Lakota Sioux Legends and Myths: Native American Oral Traditions Recorded by Marie L. McLaughlin and Zitkala-Sa by Marie L. McLaughlin and Zitkala-Sa
  • Indigenous Poetics in Canada

The works of Maryse Condé

Maryse Condé is a Guadeloupean/French novelist, playwright and critic. Her "novels explore racial, gender and cultural issues in a variety of historical eras and locales" (Wikipedia). She has won awards for several of her works, which include the following:

  • Hérémakhonon (1976), her first novel, "was so controversial that it was pulled from the shelves after six months because of its criticism over the success of African socialism".
  • Segu (French: Ségou: Les murailles de terre, 1985) is set in the 19th-century Bambara or Ségou Empire of Mali and is the novel that brought her to prominence.
  • I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (French: Moi, Tituba, Sorcière…Noire de Salem, 1986) creates a character, Tituba, who was thrown into the same cell as Hester Prynne from Nathanial Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.
  • Windward Height (French: La migration des coeurs, 1995) is a reworking of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

(Posted on 15 September 2020.)


Sarojini Naidu

I just learned about this person today, but she seems to have been an important figure in Indian history as well as an outstanding poet. Quoting from Wikipedia:

Naidu's literary work as a poet earned her the nickname the "Nightingale of India" by Gandhi because of the colour, imagery and lyrical quality of her poetry. Her oeuvre includes both children's poems and others written on more serious themes including patriotism and tragedy. Published in 1912, "In the Bazaars of Hyderabad" remains one of her most popular poems. [...] Naidu's poetry was written in english [sic], and usually took the form of lyric poetry in the tradition of British Romanticism, which she was sometimes challenged to reconcile with her Indian nationalist politics. She was known for her vivid use of rich sensory images in her writing, and for her lush depictions of India. She was well-regarded as a poet, considered the "Indian Yeats".

Beginning in 1904, Naidu became an increasingly popular orator, promoting Indian independence and women's rights, especially women's education. Her oratory often framed arguments following the five-part rhetorical structures of Nyaya reasoning. [...] Naidu is known as "one of India's feminist luminaries". Naidu's birthday, 13 February, is celebrated as Women's Day to recognise powerful voices of women in India's history.

Her poetry will be interesting to read and analyse in its own right, and it may also be interesting to examine the relationship between her artistic writing and her political views (e.g. what does it mean that she "sometimes challenged" the "tradition of British Romanticism" in her poetry? there, I've already come up with a question for this potential topic challenge!)


Sequels to or retellings of Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) has often been adapted into children's books and films. It has also inspired sequels and retellings that sometimes put the original story into a new perspective.

These sequels and retellings include the following:

  • Daniel Defoe's lesser-known lesser-known sequel The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719).
  • Defoe's Serious Reflections During the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe: With his Vision of the Angelick World (1720), which "consists of a series of essays written in the voice of the character Robinson Crusoe" (Wikipedia).
  • Michel Tournier's retelling Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique (Friday, or, The Other Island, 1967), which was awarded the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française. The themes explored in this novel include civilization versus nature, and the psychology of solitude.
  • Michel Tournier's adaptation of his 1967 novel for younger readers: Vendredi ou la Vie sauvage (1971).
  • Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Crusoe in England".
  • J. M. Coetzee's novel Foe (1986), which is told from the perspective of a woman who landed on the same island as "Cruso" and which focuses on themes of language and power.
  • Patrick Chamoiseau's 2012 novel L'empreinte à Crusoé, which begins after Crusoe has already spent twenty years on the island.

This challenge would allow us to look at the Robinson Crusoe story from various points of view, including an anti-colonialist angle, and to compare themes across works based on the same story.

The challenge would not include other examples of the robinsonade genre, such as The Swiss Family Robinson, or shipwreck stories generally.


Rohingya literature

The Rohingya are a stateless people group that experiences severe persecution in Myanmar.

A few examples of literature associated with the Rohingya:

  • First, they erased our names
  • I am a Rohingya

Literary Hoaxes

Every few years, the literary world becomes aware of a new hoax perpetrated on it. The persona of JT LeRoy and the fake memoir of James Frey are two relatively recent examples. Examples of literary hoaxes go back at least as far as the 5th century BCE, when Onomacritus inserted forgeries of his own devising into his edition of Musaeus's oracles.

Literary hoaxes sometimes retain influence even after the hoax is exposed, whether by the perpetrator or somebody else. Thomas Chatterton, for example, became a figure of great interest among the Romantics because of his tragic life and the role his faked 15th C. Rowley poems played in it. Sadly, another hugely influential hoax, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, continues to circulate as part of the propaganda of anti-semitic, right-wing conspiracy theory groups.

The category of "literary hoax" raises interesting questions about truth in a creative context. Frey's so-called memoir, A Million Little Pieces, would still be a well-written and moving work if considered as fiction rather than memoir. Yet its being marketed as the latter, and the scandal that ensued when its fictitious nature was revealed, demonstrate that part of the value attributed to the world rested on a truth-claim that would be inoperative if it had been marketed as fiction. What does this tell us about the truth-value of a literary memoir as opposed to that of a work of fiction?

As a thought experiment, what would happen if we were to take a reader who was unaware of the scandal surrounding A Million Little Pieces and had her read the work as fiction? How would her response and evaluation change, compared to that of a similar reader (one similarly unaware of the scandal) who read it as memoir? By definition, creative writers indulge in world-building. What are the ways in which the presentation of the built world as fiction or as memoir determine how the reader responds to and evaluates the work?

The same holds true for poetry. If the Rowley poems are good poems, does that depend on their "really" being 15th C. poems? Evidently not, since the Romantics found them well worth reading anyway, and they continue to be anthologized in reputable collections.

There also seems to be a distinction in the reception of a literary hoax depending on whether it's exposed by a third party or by the hoaxer. Frey and Chatterton attracted opprobrium. But Rabindranath Tagore, as a very young man, passed off a pastiche of poems in the 15th C. – 17th C. Vaishnava Padavali tradition as the real article. After the sequence had been published and praised, he admitted that Bhanusingher Padavali was his own creation rather than a rediscovered older manuscript. He suffered no enduring blowback.

The category of literary hoax forces us to ask what the boundary is between creative writing and deception. This is an ancient question, going back all the way to Plato, who flat-out denied that there was any distinction. A topic challenge about literary hoaxes would provide Lit SE the chance to indulge in both theoretical questions about the nature of fiction, and discussions of specific instances of literary hoaxes.

(Posted on 26 November 2020.)

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