Friday, September 18, 2009

Is Cult Fiction the Same as Underground Fiction?

Cult fiction is not inherently the same thing as underground fiction, although there is a considerable degree of overlap between the two, and it is quite possible for an underground title to acquire the status of cult fiction. One must keep in mind, however, that many books that have a strong underground following are nonfiction.

In simplest terms, underground fiction frequently deals with counterculture elements such as sex, drugs, or political activism. Not surprisingly, these books are usually published by small presses and have limited distribution. Exceptions, of course, are numerous. Also, underground fiction may be understood in terms of novels or short stories that are highly experimental in terms of style or content. This is not to say that major publishing houses do not occasionally publish experimental novels (rare in today’s publishing climate), but true underground fiction is usually risky, edgy, avant-garde.

The best contemporary example of such avant-garde novels attaining cult status are those of 1970s counterculture writer and poet Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing in America and other commercially successful titles. Brautigan’s early work, however, was often Xeroxed or mimeographed and distributed in very small numbers. Eventually, his work was acquired by an independent press and, later, a major publishing house. His work remains in print today, and his name will be recognized by some, though not all, readers.

An earlier example of an underground writer is Edgar Allan Poe, although many might debate this point for any number of reasons. Poe began publishing his work in very small journals (not uncommon at all at any period in literary history), but the macabre nature of his work, together with his controversial lifestyle, met with considerable resistance. In Poe’s case, the content of his canon marginalized him for a time, although his work in American literature is secure and his titles are not generally considered cult fiction.

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What Is Cult Fiction?
Is Cult Fiction the Same as Underground Fiction?
Cult Fiction and Genre
Cult Fiction and ON THE ROAD
Cult Fiction and A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES
Moby-Dick: The Ultimate Cult Novel
John Lennon and the Mercy Street Cafe: Cult Fiction in the Making?
The Next Wave of Cult Fiction
List of Cult Fiction Classics
Cult Fiction Websites
Current Trends in Fiction
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Breakout Fiction
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Understanding the Literary Marketplace
Emerging Writers in the Literary Marketplace
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