I Just Work Here
Part of my AWP tradition is to attend each year at least one of the several panels devoted to the painful, recounting of the horrors visited upon writers of color while earning their MFAs in creative writing. On April 30 The New Yorker book blog published what is likely the highest profile version of this genre. Junot Diaz describes his program thusly:
Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem. (At least the students are diverse, they told us.) Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.
You can read the rest of the post here.
As a connoisseur of the medium, I was neither alarmed nor surprised by Junot’s excellent piece—even as the comments section did run my blood pressure up a bit. The naked racism and misdirected rage of the commenters reminded me that it is often the people inside the system who are the most defensive of the status quo and the first to take offense at what they perceive as a personal attack on their teaching. There’s no problem in our program, after all. We hired that one black guy that one time (too bad it didn’t work out). And we regularly assign our students to read “Sonny’s Blues,” and Invisible Man.
The thing about masterpieces is it makes one seem petty to suggest that there might have been other books published since the 1950s.
Commonly, at AWP, as the blood is let and the tears are shed and as one panelist or audience member after another stands and delivers her sad, sad tale of invisibility or outright abuse, she speaks to a room of people who for the most part look just like her. So while it’s a great thing that Junot Diaz raises this issue in the highest of high profile venues, he is very likely still preaching to the choir.
I have never read one word by a creative writing teacher from the majority culture that takes seriously the subject of culturally responsive pedagogy. Not one word.