Junot Díaz condemns creative writing courses for ‘unbearable too-whiteness’

Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

The Pulitzer-prize winning, Dominica-American author Junot Díaz, recently commented that “the default position of reading and writing … was white, straight and male” and characterized this position as the “unbearable too-whiteness.” Alison Flood writes about similar perspectives in the UK by writers, including Aminatta Forna and Daljit Nagra, who speak about a “backlash” as the “centre in literature begins to shift away from the Anglo-American writer towards writers with different backgrounds.” [Read the complete article in the link below.]

The award-winning poet Daljit Nagra, meanwhile, has issued a similarly damning indictment of British poetry, saying that “too often editors use a euphemism such as ‘taste’ as an excuse for rejecting black authors because they actually mean ‘I am not interested in minority writing'”, and that “when ‘race’ is written about by black or Asian poets it is too often dismissed as something that has been ‘done before’, a criticism which is not generally targeted at those writing about ‘love’ or ‘snow'”.

The award-winning poet Daljit Nagra, meanwhile, has issued a similarly damning indictment of British poetry, saying that “too often editors use a euphemism such as ‘taste’ as an excuse for rejecting black authors because they actually mean ‘I am not interested in minority writing'”, and that “when ‘race’ is written about by black or Asian poets it is too often dismissed as something that has been ‘done before’, a criticism which is not generally targeted at those writing about ‘love’ or ‘snow'”.

[. . .] In an introduction to a new anthology, Dismantle, Díaz writes of how, when undertaking his MFA (master of fine arts) in creative writing at Cornell University, New York, his experiences as a “person of colour” – Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey – were almost entirely overlooked. “That shit was too white,” writes Díaz in the introduction, which was published by the New Yorker. “Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC – no people of colour – in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of colour in the fiction programme – like none – and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of colour 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).”

Díaz said his workshop never explored racial identities or how they impacted on writing, that students never talked about race at all, other than to argue that “race discussions” were inappropriate for “a serious writer”. “In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing – of Literature with a capital L – was white, straight and male,” writes the author of the Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. “In my workshop what was defended was not the writing of people of colour but the right of the white writer to write about people of colour without considering the critiques of people of colour. Oh, yes: too white indeed. I could write pages on the unbearable too-whiteness of my workshop – I could write folio, octavo and duodecimo on its terrible whiteness – but you get the idea.”

[. . .] Forna, who is professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University, said that what Díaz had “put his finger on isn’t so much a blind spot, it’s worse, it’s actually protectionism”, and that “as the centre in literature begins to shift away from the Anglo-American writer towards writers with different backgrounds we are witnessing a backlash”.

“The response on the part of those writers and critics who can no longer take the centre ground for granted is to deny the validity of other, alternative voices,” said Forna. “By saying race doesn’t matter and cultural perspective is irrelevant, you’re asserting that those writers have nothing to say and nothing to add. The attacks on the so-called ‘global’ novel are part of the same protectionism. It means the jobs stay with those who already have them.”

Nagra said he felt that Britain “lacks language for talking about issues to do with race”, and that “whereas Americans confidently articulate a language involving terms such as POC, we have BME [black and minority ethnic], which seems to hover between catch-all and don’t-know-who-you-are-but-I-know-you-are-there”.

The writer, who is a course director on Faber Academy’s Becoming A Poet course, said that he had “always been in the company of racially inappropriate comments either about my work or those of other black and Asian poets”.

“We are often described as performance poets and our work is ‘lively’ or ‘vibrant’,” said Nagra. “I feel frustrated that we are rarely appreciated beyond the content of our poetry, which is viewed as an exotic curiosity. It is rare for our work to be viewed in the context of a serious engagement with forms and traditions of the British canon as we are not fully accepted as part of it.” [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/19/junot-diaz-attack-creative-writing-unbearable-too-whiteness

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