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Archives: Multiculturalism

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.

Some Numbers

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

Circulating on the web today is a blog post from the children’s book publisher Lee & Low.  The post documents the fact that over the past twenty years there has been no significant change in the percentage of books published for children by or about people of color.  The data reported in this post were gathered by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s at the University of Wisconsin and can be found here: Childrens Books by and About People of Color.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

uncle ben

uncle ben (Photo credit: giveawayboy)

This week’s celebrity chef kerfuffle reminds me of the best definition of bigotry I ever heard: Racism is when someone reminds you that you’re black so that they can be white.  Poor Paula: life would have been so much more…genteel, if certain persons knew their place.

Write What You Know

Cloned

Cloned (Photo credit: Asha ten Broeke)

Like most creative writing teachers I try to be both non-prescriptive and as neutral about content.  Students can and should and do write about the topics of their choice—which further complicates the question of the diversity of our casts of characters.  I know someone who was shamed into diversifying the cast of a novel, and, trust me, that didn’t turn out well. Neither does it minimize my fascination with our pervasive literary monoculture.

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