All of us have probably read “classic” literature at some point, whether for leisure or for school (most likely for school, honestly). A lot of us probably know about the controversy surrounding classics being taught or neglected at schools, and the ever-changing definition of what can be called a classic.
According to the very reliable source Wikipedia, a classic is “a book accepted as being exemplary or particularly noteworthy.” But how old does the book have to be? Are there any criteria about what makes a book noteworthy? What else is necessary, if anything?
I believe the definition of a classic needs to stay vague and fluid so that more diverse literary works can fit the bill. Most so-called “classics” that are taught in schools are written by white men who died before our parents were even born, with some notable exceptions, like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (who originally published the novel anonymously, not under her feminine name) and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Black-American woman author Zora Neale Hurston. The only criteria for a book to become a classic, in my opinion, is that the book has to shake things up somehow and the age of the book. The book should make some sort of cultural impact that makes it worth teaching in schools. It should also be somewhat aged, say, 25 years before it can be considered old enough to be a classic. If a book is still relevant and viewed as impactful after that much time, I think it’s safe to call it a classic. If it’s not after another 25 years, there’s nothing wrong with removing the label.
The minimal criteria above open the gates for diverse authors’ works to be included in the realm of classics. Schools across the USA often just teach classic works by white male authors and exclude women authors, authors of color, disabled authors, queer authors, etc., just because they feel it’s “woke” to include books by these authors or books with diverse characters. But really, under the true, vague definition of classics, there is plenty of room for every kind of author and work to be included.