2/ The “problem” with the dominance of the Western canon is that readers, including me, sometimes forget that other cultures too have great classic books worth reading.
If you want real diversity, the thing to do is to read classic works from other cultures that have stood the test of time, not to expand your reading by only reading books by (contemporary) female and/or non-white writers in the West.
3/ Not all countries are equal when it comes to literature.
4/ Whenever someone says that books by “dead white men”, or books about “white experience” in general, are irrelevant and unrelatable to them, I’d like to ask how they think the works of Tolstoy or Melville or Dickens or Gogol or Nabokov are relevant (in that sense) to me—a Vietnamese girl brought up in Vietnam and Norway, and now based in the UK.
5/ Whenever someone says that books by “dead white men”, or books about “white experience” in general, are irrelevant and unrelatable to them, I’d like to ask why they think the works of those “dead white men” are translated into multiple languages, and read and beloved around the world. Go talk to the non-Western tourists visiting the Bronte Parsonage Museum or Dickens Museum or Maison de Victor Hugo, for example.
6/ Whenever a teacher says that books by “dead white men”, or books about “white experience” in general, are irrelevant to students of colour and should be removed from the curriculum, to be replaced by books reflecting students’ experience, I think that teacher should stop teaching.
7/ You don’t have to attack “dead white men” to praise female and/or non-white authors and call for diversifying the reading list.
8/ Stop saying “decolonise the bookshelf”—it’s meaningless and dumb.
9/ Stop telling others to diversify their reading if you only read books originally written in the English language.
10/ New writers have the perfect right to take an existing work as a starting point to create a new one, but if you write a feminist or “diverse” version of a classic novel, your work should be judged on its own artistic merit, not on how many boxes it ticks.
(Also, please don’t say that you’re taking a classic book and making it relevant to today, the arrogance is embarrassing).
This is a good read:
This is the opening paragraph:
“Last month the Huffington Post published an essay by Claire Fallon entitled “Was this Decade the Beginning of the End of the Great White Male Writer?” Fallon celebrated the notion that white men are losing their prominence in contemporary American literature and that the best books being published in America today are being written by a wider variety of authors than ever before.”Kevin Mims, the author, then says:
“Are contemporary National Book Award (NBA) winners and nominees a more diverse lot than those of previous eras? Actually, no, not unless your only criterion for diversity is skin color or ethnicity. By any other measure, the authors honored by the National Book Foundation over the past decade are a surprisingly homogenous group. Almost all of them are products of what has come to be known, among supporters and critics alike, as America’s “MFA Industrial Complex.” They all tend to matriculate at the same elite colleges, acquire advanced degrees in English or Creative Writing, and then go on to teach in the same circle of elite schools.”I don’t want to quote much, because the article should be read in full. The main point is that Kevin Mims looks at NBA winners and nominees throughout history: compared to the winners and runners up in Lisa Lucas’s era, earlier honourees were a lot more diverse, in terms of class, background, education, and also political views. More importantly, many of their books became cultural landmarks: Gone with the Wind, From Here to Eternity, Invisible Man, The Adventures of Augie March, The Catcher in the Rye, The Caine Mutiny, The Old Man and the Sea, East of Eden, Giovanni’s Room, Atlas Shrugged, The Ginger Man, Lolita, The Haunting of Hill House, Goodbye Columbus, etc.
“Over the past decade, the National Book Foundation has honored works of fiction such as Great House, I Hotel, So Much For That, Binocular Vision, Refund, The Throwback Special, The Association of Small Bombs, and a lot of other books whose authors not one in 10,000 Americans can probably identify. Decades from now, when people look back on the Lisa Lucas era at the National Book Foundation, they may see a whole lot of ethnic diversity and not much more—except for a lot of forgotten and out-of-print titles.”
To make it absolutely clear and prevent strangers from twisting my words, I’ve never said only “dead white male” or “white male” authors could be great.
I think we all should read widely. Expand your reading. In fact, this year I’m intending to read more books by female authors and more books from countries with which I’m not very familiar.
Currently on my TBR list are Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, and Orhan Pamuk’s My Name Is Red.
Now excuse me, I’m going to get back to Mansfield Park, to read about “white experience” to which I can’t relate.