Anthony Ehlers' talk, which closed the Saturday program of the conference, was titled From Taboo to Mainstream: The evolution of erotica.
Report by Annemarie Gaertner
Report by Erich Viedge
'Why should literature with the sex left in be outside the mainstream?' asked Anthony Ehlers as he started his entertaining and informative talk on the mainstreaming of erotica.
The thing about Ehlers is that he’s very well prepared, and he gives action steps mixed in with his academic understanding of the topic.
He took us through the evolution of erotica in five stages: social context; author’s gender; platforms; genre trends; and finally, pornography.
There was plenty in his talk even for people well-informed about erotica and its evolution.
He took us from the earliest written erotica, recovered in Roman ruins over 2,000 years ago and discussed how erotica interacted with the time period in which it found itself.
After the first Gulf war, American Erotica series editor Susie Bright found suddenly there was a lot of homo-erotic writing about soldiers. Ehlers took us from the Marquis de Sade (whose name gave us the word Sadism) and John Clelland, through to Fifty Shades of Grey.
He helped the Romance writing audience understand how to approach erotic writing — and gave us a frame for it.
With Fifty Shades of Grey, erotica really has gone mainstream: one erotic author in the audience said her gynae asked where to find her erotic writing so that the gynae could recommend it to other patients.
As Ehlers points out, the 16m sales of 50 Shades helped keep bookshops open. By writing erotica, we’re helping all authors — especially in South Africa where a bestseller is considered a book that sells 500 copies!
And there’s a market for good erotic writing. Ehlers says in 2012, eight of the top 10 sellers in the UK were erotica titles.
His talk was full of facts like that, casually tossed in, like olives in a salad. Here’s another one: in the 1700s, there would be public readings of erotica to the poor, so that everybody could enjoy the stories.
Ehlers’ style is laid back which is just as well. If he were more formal his talks would be impossibly dense. But his easygoing attitude and his mastery of his subject make him pleasure to listen to — and learn from!
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