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Archives: Multicultural Literature

Questions 18 Through 22

Questions 18 Through 22

Some more questions from Stephen Burt:

18. How often are readers from “marked,” or subordinated, or “minority” subject positions, asked to read as if they were not coming from those positions, to look at a literary work as if we were cisgendered, or male, or “middle American,” or well-off, or white?

19. How often are readers from “unmarked” or majority or until-recently-the-majority subject positions asked to read as if they were not coming from those positions, to look at a literary work as if we were Filipino, or Icelandic, or black?

20. Are the “asks” (or demands) in questions 18 and 19 demands of the same kind?

21. How often are readers unfamiliar with carpentry, or particle physics, or runway fashion, or haute cuisine, or Latin, asked to read as if we already recognized references to those fields?

22. Are the “asks” (or demands) in question 21 demands of the same kind as those in questions 18 and 19?

A charming retired gentleman participated in a novel workshop I taught in the DC area, and during a routine discussion of verisimilitude we debated the importance of authentic detail on the reader’s experience. He’d spent most of his life at sea—career Navy—and assured his fellow workshop members that, love him or hate him, the author of The Hunt for Red October hadn’t spent much time on submarines.   This student actually rather enjoyed Tom Clancy’s cold war tomes, although he admitted that in this particular case part of his pleasure arose from sneering at the implausible or inaccurate detail. I declined his offer to peruse his annotated copy of the novel.

If You’ve Seen One…

Paul Cézanne: Apples and Oranges circa 1899

Paul Cézanne: Apples and Oranges circa 1899 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Microbrewery friends assure me that I’m missing out on a good thing, but the thing is, growing up in St. Louis with its ubiquitous hometown lager I simply never developed a taste for beer. That’s the problem with monocultures: by their very nature they limit our perspective. 

Adventures in Diversity: Nothing Gold Can Stay

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On National Shame Undergraduate Slackers Day, which at SMU we celebrate at least once a month, (if not more), I always bring up S.E. Hinton, who began working on The Outsiders while still in high school and published it during her freshman year in college.  It has since become an enduring classic of young adult literature and sells on average of 500,000 copies a year.  (So I want you slackers think real hard about that when you hand me your little three-paged, whiney, wrote-this-morning-while-still-drunk, not-so-thinly-disguised memoirs.)

Thundering Again

Cover

The publishing numbers for younger readers are grim, but things have been A LOT worse.  During my classroom years, you could line up the multicultural fiction on one shelf and still have room for several sets of encyclopedias.  This was just before the emergence of Walter Dean Myers’ star, and if you wanted to do right in terms of reflecting the culture of the students, the pickins’ were pretty slim.  In fact, the choices were two:  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and Sounder

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