Discussion on Parity and Decolonization in Literary Editing & Publishing

Before my Literary Editing & Publishing class yesterday, my students completed the following reading assignments:

Read “Self-Portrait of the Artist as Ungrateful Black Writer” by Saeed Jones and “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” by Jenny Zhang on Buzzfeed; “Sherman Alexie Speaks Out on the Best American Poetry 2015” on The Best American Poetry blog; “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” by Calvin Trillin in The New Yorker; “Have They Run Out of White Poets Yet?” and “regarding the yellowface poet” by Franny Choi; “Diversity in Book Publishing Isn’t Just About Writers — Marketing Matters, Too” by Jean Ho, “Decolonize, Not Diversify” by Kavita Bhanot on Moodle; “Cate Marvin Discusses the VIDA Count: An Interview” (pgs. 279–284) and “Counting Bodies: Notes for Further Consideration” (285–286) by Marcelle Heath in Paper Dreams.

In class, they discussed editorial responsibilities toward the parity and decolonization of publishing. They broke down the semantic differences between “diversity” and “decolonization,” and they discussed the impact on writers of editorial biases through first-hand accounts and poetic responses by Saeed Jones and Franny Choi. In addition to the articles and works above, we read excerpts from “On Pandering” by Claire Vaye Watkins, and I charged my students with interrogating their own implicit and explicit biases. We discussed again the idea that there’s no one literary tradition, that there’s many literary traditions and the “canon” is just one of those traditions. We considered appropriation’s history within western literary culture and the ongoing negative impact it has on creative work. We also talked about how, ideally, all editors should frequently interrogate their own tastes, aesthetics, and biases so that they don’t become lazy in their work. This was one of the most important classes that I think I’ve ever facilitated, and my students had  a great deal of insight, questions, and concerns to contribute during the discussion. Many of them were horrified to find out about these issues in publishing and how these implicit biases were sometimes ignored by editors.

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