"The history of English is inextricably tied to the history of war, to the history of empire; they cannot be separated. And hence our literature cannot be separated from these histories. Language is one of the most powerful weapons of war. It is also one of the war's first victims."
AWP: Compiling a list like this is a big commitment of time and effort. What compelled you to take on this work?
Neil Aitken: In some sense, this felt like the natural next step in the series of posts I’ve been writing and compiling for De-Canon: A Visibility Project. After compiling last month’s list which assembled all the books, articles, essays, and lectures I could find by writers of color on craft, I began wondering how many (if any) of these texts were being used in graduate creative writing classrooms—and who taught in those classrooms?
Tender Table is a series featuring the voices of women of color and gender nonconforming people of color. It is a platform for storytelling and sharing food. The stories told at Tender Table are connected to the food shared at these events.
The urgency to create Tender Table came out of a desire and necessity to have these conversations in Portland, OR (often referred to being very white, a mecca of food appropriation by acclaimed white chefs) and hopefully someday in other cities. I encourage people to learn about the food they love, choose ethically sourced food, reach out and give back to the communities who’ve grown, harvested, and worked to put food in front of us. Many food workers of color work in harsh conditions and/or are not appropriately compensated or protected by their employers. How do we expose it, examine it, and create actions to change that?
Here's the third and final post detailing the graduate faculty writers of color teaching in MA, MFA, and PhD programs in states Texas to Wyoming. As before, if I've missed anyone whose permanent faculty at in a graduate creative writing program, please let me know and I'll add them in. These posts are largely meant to help us all have a better perspective of what's out there, who's teaching where, and where you might go if you're hoping to work with a creative writing mentor who is also POC.
This post continues our project of identifying who is teaching where when it comes to permanent creative writing faculty in MA, MFA, and PhD programs across the United States. As noted earlier, there's a good chance I've missed a few people (and possibly programs) -- please feel free to notify me if there are any glaring errors or omissions. This is intended as a snapshot of the current state of things (as of June 2017) -- people do move around and programs will hire more POC creative writing faculty, but at the very least we can get a glimpse of what's going on -- and hopefully this will be a good resource for anyone considering doing graduate work in creative writing.
I think a big challenge for many writers considering an MFA or a PhD is trying to figure out where to go and who to study with. Often a young writer of color does not have easy access to information about programs or faculty who might be a good fit. Given the sheer number of possible programs, finding potential faculty mentors of color can be exhausting and discouraging. In an effort to remedy this in some small way, I've spent the last few weeks researching graduate creative writing programs, trying to build a snapshot of who is teaching where, and what genres are being covered in different programs.
June 1, 2017 @ UNA Gallery --- We were so pleased to debut a mini-preview of our De-Canon project as part of First Thursday's Art Walk.
We had three poets in conversation in exhibit-format in the upstairs part of the gallery: Stephanie Adams-Santos, Christopher Rose, and Trevino Brings Plenty displayed poems as text slides, audio readings, and video projection. Downstairs, we had one set of shelves displaying a small selection of quintessential texts by writers of color, contemporary works, and by writers no longer living.
This was just a sampling of the "pop-up library" installation that will be on exhibit at UNA for the month of August - and which will include a larger number of books and shelves, and more "exhibits" of poetry by local artists and writers.
The desire to seek out a mentor is an old one. One of the classic tropes in Tang dynasty poetry is the scholar-official's unsuccessful attempt to visit a recluse, often with the intent to discuss poetry and/or enlightenment. In most of these cases, the seeker's encounter with absence becomes the occasion for relaying a conversation that never takes place. Rather than viewing such missed encounters with disappointment, the tone of these poems tends toward a strange peaceful reverie in the poet's momentary brush with enlightenment (see Paula S. Varsano's excellent critical piece on this tradition). Somehow in not finding the hermit, the seeker finds something else awakened and revealed in the awaiting silence.
For most of us, the failure to find the mentor we are seeking rarely translates into an epiphany about what we are trying to do or become as writers. Instead, silence sometimes begets more silence. Absence, further absence. The missing mentor leaves a void that cannot be adequately or satisfactorily filled with the surrounding white noise of the world.
"It's not that I'm trying to dis these historians ... [but] even sillier than thinking of erasure as an arts and craft exercise, is the avant-garde desire to locate erasures beginning in the 1960s, or to suggest that language poets were the originators of the post-modern (read: post-colonial--when you hear 'post-modern', read 'post-colonial'...) shift in western literature. It's not only a historically silly idea, but it misses much of the exquisite point of the vastness of erasure's reach, and, even more importantly, the vastness of literatures by people of color.
“I often wonder what I’d do if there weren’t any books in the world.” ― James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
A few weeks ago I was thinking about how Junot Diaz often comments on the fact he’s almost never asked to speak about craft, and instead always is asked to talk about race, identity, and the immigrant experience. And it’s true — when I think about all the books on writing craft I’ve read or heard about over the years I’m struck by how few POC-authored books on writing I’ve seen. Are they really that rare? Or are the books and essays out there, but we don’t know where to find them?