A public “Thank You” to Wordspace for hosting the “official” Dallas launch of my book last night. It was…perfect. A lovely evening with friends and readers and supporters. In the lovely home of Dee Mitchell from Wordspace.
Last year I was interviewed by Catherine Buni for The Writer about culturally responsive pedagogy. At the end of the article you’ll find a fine and representative listing of craft texts .
What books do you turn to for guidance? And what books are you missing?
By Catherine Buni | Published: January 6, 2014
Last spring, novelist Gish Jen published her first book of nonfiction, a fascinating book calledTiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self. In it, Jen explores how the intersection of culture, of East and West, informs the stories she tells, indeed, how culture informs the stories all writers tell.
Tiger Writing is about writing. Tiger Writing is about art. It is also about the assumptions that underlie the standards by which art is judged. In an interview soon after the book’s release, Jen said, “With globalization in full swing, it’s a good time to take stock of our ideas about art and what ideas about art are in other cultures.”
I love calling it the Smackdown—even if the action has more in common with psychological warfare than it does with “professional” wrestling. Don’t get me wrong: there are as many boors and bulldozers in creative writing workshops as in your garden-variety fraternity house or state legislature (redundant, I know), and that ilk is always more than happy to tell you your work sucks and that blowing up that spaceship full of babies was a dick move. But those of us better trained in the ever-so-elegant ceremonial détente of the creative writing workshop understand the importance of guiding our peers with a more delicate touch. There are more sophisticated ways of pulling the plug on content that doesn’t meet our approval. The repertoire of the acculturated includes:
- The friendly amendment: “What if instead of a dismembered cadaver, you had the character find….”
- The displaced (usually prudish) objection: “Personally, I don’t have a problem with foot fetishes, however…”
Have you ever gotten the smackdown? Or seen someone get it? How’d you feel about that?
This is .
I feel like I need to preface my answer(s) with some background that situates me as a writer in this conversation. As I said in one of my comments, I have such a love-hate relationship with identity politics. This is because, on the one hand, I have felt silenced and/or unheard in damaging ways, some of which are related to my “identities” – especially as a woman and a lesbian. Sometimes oppression really does take the form of a cultural trespass that can be silencing: As though the white gaze isn’t bad enough, now here it is masquerading in blackface? The male gaze in drag? Heteronormativity chumming around as a fag hag? What do you do with that, if you are a black writer, a female writer, a queer writer? How do you get out from under that gaze, how do you talk back to it, when it’s now gone stealth?
<iMarta asks: You’ve expressed a great deal of openness with what we are calling “cultural trespass,” with authors writing across lines that can sometimes feel dangerous — race, class, gender, sexuality, etc., even when writers don’t always “get it right.” Have you always felt this way? Or was there a time when those boundaries around voice and identity felt more rigid to you, like boundaries you needed to protect?
For better or worse I came of age before the heyday of cultural studies. Even the youngest among the professors at “progressive” Macalester College was strictly old school in his approach to literature; with the exception of a brief foray into Native Son during my senior year in high school, it’s likely across my entire “formal” education that any work I read by a person of color I read because I chose to and not because I was assigned to. Good, bad or indifferent, representations—in any media—of people who looked like me or lived the kind of life I lived were few and far between. Culture, therefore, was mostly lived experience. It was the eclectic music on the stereo and a family field trip to see the touring Pearl Baily production of “Hello, Dolly” and Nikki Giovanni on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson—as well as her first books of poetry delivered by my cousin who was in graduate school at Yale.
Tomorrow I’ll reply to Marta’s question to me, but for today, I wanted to post up some of the highlights of the responses to Marta’s essay from Monday.
Kimberly Smith brought to us her recollections of earlier engagements in the struggle:
“I too remember those times and how dangerous it felt to be white and engage in discussions of race and racism when there were people of color in the room.
So, Marta: When or how did you first come to be aware of the various sensitivities around “cultural trespass” (as it were)?
In college in the 1980’s I was reading a lot of black women writers and poets – do you remember But Some of Us Are Brave: All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men: Black Women’s Studies edited by Gloria T. Hull and Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith? And This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua? For some reason, it all resonated for me so deeply.
Here’s part of The Bridge Poem by Donna Kate Rushin that still sticks in my brain when a whole lot of other stuff I learned in college is long gone:
While I was sick as a Ricky Gervais joke during the January 2014 residency for the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College (I have NEVER been more invisible) I was able to rise from my bed to deliver a class I called “Would You Like to See My Cat Mammy? Looking at Other People and Their Stuff.”
Here is a description of that class:
Book review: ‘A Star in the Face of the Sky,’ by David Haynes
It’s a macabre headline: Keisha Davis murders her preacher husband and three of her children to save them from the devil. “They’re like angels, Mama,” she reports in a phone call to her mother. “Wrapped in white, that He may receive them.”
Keisha’s oldest son, Daniel, was in his grandmother’s care when she killed the rest of the family, and the grandmother’s efforts to give him a full, normal life are the foundation for this beautifully scripted novel.
David Haynes’ story is a study in resilience and strength; it’s about coming to terms with the past. But mostly, it’s about love — between friends, family, lovers, even between those who love and the ones who fail to reciprocate that love. It’s about how this force pulls us through dark times and buoys us in good.
Haynes, author of six other novels and several children’s books, is Southern Methodist University’s creative writing director. His prose is rich, multilayered and often lyrical with lines worthy of re-reading. But his greatest strength is the depth he gives his characters. Man, woman, black, Jewish — all are nuanced and believable.