<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.