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Care-lessness

Care-lessness

It occurs to me that when I say that I am disinterested in my students’ excuses, many people hear me saying, “I don’t care.” Disinterest is one of those words with a slippery and probably disappearing meaning. The word I’m using means this: the state of not being influenced by personal involvement in something; impartiality. I may (or may not) be genuinely sorry that the dog ate your semester portfolio. But, burden that it might be—all that gummed up 20# paper clogging up your vacuum, all those vowels clogging Fido’s intestines—it’s not my burden, nor is it my problem to solve.

At the beginning of the school year, back in my middle school days, the students would line up six deep at the desk in the morning with an array of pre-teen drama. Usually it was related to the various things they couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t do, or things that were done to them by others in line, and the reason why these things should matter to me. There were more mystery ailments than on a year’s worth of daytime TV.   Many days I felt much like a benevolent king, holding court as his minions approached the throne, my tribute their carefully crafted tales of young adolescent suffering.

Have You Seen Me?

Have You Seen Me?

This milk carton ad is brought to you by SMU Litfest, whose website is up and running.

Our three Undergraduate Research Assistants–Will, Mariana and Kalen–are busy postering, Facebooking, Tweeting, and otherwise getting the word out.  If you’re anywhere near Dallas during the third week of March, do yourself a favor and stop by SMU, where all of these writers (and others!) will be found. Stop by and meet Nan Cuba, Erica Dawson, Tarfia Faizullah, Jennifer Key, Jamaal May, Kyle McCord, Tim Parrish and Rob Yardumian.

An Article About Pedagogy

An Article About Pedagogy

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.”

You Have Been Judged and Found Wanting

You Have Been Judged and Found Wanting

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…”
I Ask Marta About…THE SMACKDOWN!

I Ask Marta About…THE SMACKDOWN!

Have you ever gotten the smackdown?  Or seen someone get it?  How’d you feel about that?

This is complicated.

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?

Marta Asks Me About My First Time

Marta Asks Me About My First Time

<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.

Yesterday’s Comments

Yesterday’s Comments

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.

I Ask Marta About Cultural Trespass

I Ask Marta About Cultural Trespass

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:

Titles

Titles

The name of the character came first, and Danny seemed to simply fall out of the air, much the same way the story did.  I was killing time in a studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts with a mahjong game I won playing Monopoly at McDonalds.  (Don’t let anyone tell you that contest is rigged.)  Sometimes when you feel blocked, the best thing to do is something mindless. Sometimes when you do something mindless nothing happens; sometimes a whole novel lands in your brain.  That’s where A Star in the Face of the Sky came from.  

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