In retrospect, I have no way of gauging how much of his concern was due to my ethnicity, how much due to gender, how much due to my aesthetic, how much to the content of my work, and so on. My professor’s reaction made me doubt the worth of my efforts and my own desire to continue writing.
In graduate school, where I did a scholarly masters and then doctorate that focused on modernism, I took creative writing courses on the side, for fun.
As Beverly Daniel Tatum writes, when it comes to issues of race, ethnicity, and white privilege, we are all works in progress.
What I’ve witnessed is that when we think of the discipline of creative writing as being somehow politically neutral, it ends up being mostly white, male, and straight by default.
For example, for a memoir exercise that excavates our parents’ fossilized dreams (for good and ill) embedded in our given names, we read Sandra Cisneros’s vignette “My Name” in .
We discuss the broad range of familial, cultural, and historical ground that the protagonist considers—and declines—before students write the stories of their own names.When the class got to mine, the other students talked for a while about various aspects. The relief that slowly dawned was overwhelming: he’d saved it for last .I sweated and tried to breathe, waiting for footsteps in the hall. Later he gave a paper about it at AWP, which he urged me to attend as well, but I didn’t grasp what AWP was, and I was a single mother with a toddler and no money for travel.Everyone—no matter how prestigious the MFA with which they enter our program—is equally good at this method; there is truly no wrong or right.Pointing thereby cuts out the “peacocking” (Emily Toth’s term) that often crops up in workshops, as some students vie to establish their expertise (or dominance) among their peers.I use texts by writers of color as my reference points, employing examples of aesthetics, choices, and techniques from Morrison, Kingston, Erdrich, Justin Torres, and Helen Oyeyemi, for example, rather than from Faulkner, Hemingway, and Tobias Wolff.In doing so, I offer no explanation, allowing literature by writers of color to function as the (apparently) unexamined norm in my classroom, as white writers have functioned elsewhere for so long., I develop and use exercises that engage texts by writers of color.The writer listens quietly, making notes or not, until everyone has read.(It’s important for respondents not to omit words just because an earlier respondent read them aloud; the writer learns a great deal from hearing how often particular choices resonated with listeners.) When everyone is done, the writer simply thanks the class.The reading of the lists is often surprisingly beautiful, like a strange, echoing poem, and pointing functions as a respectful, non-intrusive way to build trust and rapport early in the course.More importantly, it democratizes the feedback experience in a radical way, cutting past acquired vocabularies and concepts, throwing respondents back on their instincts and ears.