Custerism: A Manifesto of Doubt – Identity Theory

A great new essay by Rachel Wilkinson on late-stage capitalism, activism & academia, and family.

Custerism A Manifesto of Doubt – Identity Theory.

Excited to continue churning out fabulous releases from talented writers. Y’all make editing a thrilling gig.

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Piece

So I think I’m writing an essay–or a series of essays–but I keep calling it a collection of prose poems. At what point to I have to admit to myself that I might just be writing prose? Prose terrifies me. Can’t I just cling like a sloth to my poet moniker forever? Does this contradict my roles as a nonfiction editor and professional/academic writing tutor? So many identities!

Genre

I’m republishing a series of pieces that I wrote for the now-defunct Juniper Bends Author Collective. Since I can safely assume that none of my readers are big enough fans to take issue with this–much less to notice–I have few qualms about this course of action.

The joke goes that genre only exists so that you know where to find a particular piece in a bookstore. Now the nonfiction section leaps spasmodically from memoir to historical biography to cultural theory. Fiction includes flash, meta, stories, novellas, novels, and epics. And let’s not even get started on poetry (lyric essays, political anthologies, translations, oh my).

Here’s the question: as amateur (read: non-contracted) writers, why are we so obsessed with categorizing our own work? There are many journals that accept multi-genre pieces, or even seek them out. Authors publish multi-genre books (sometimes with friends); lyrical novels are a thing; David Rakoff wrote a novel in (rhyming) verse; Anne Carson’s brilliant Autobiography of Red is a classic piece of hybrid literature. And no one cares what they are since they’re crisp, polished, and satisfying.

Whenever I write, I find myself compulsively worried as I close in on a piece: but is it a poem? Is it flash-nonfiction? How will the bookstore know where to put my collected works?

Then I shake myself and ask the question above: who cares? 

Maybe one day I’ll have to concern myself with genre, but for now, I’ll just shut up and write.

Post

Reid and Leah have left Seattle, as have the hordes of writers from all over. I could act like it was thrilling to see folks from NC–and it was–but I’ve ensured that I am never without access to liberal Southerners, even here in WA state.

AWP was much sillier than I anticipated; the longer I spend away from writers, the easier it is to forget that so many of them are comfortable in their cushions of class/race/cisgender privilege and choose to disregard the political nature of work such as teaching, creating worlds & stories, and, you know, working in contemporary capitalist frameworks.

Folks seemed content to pat themselves on the back for achieving PhDs–no small feat, to be sure–and for challenging their undergraduate students to adhere to the rigid, objective aesthetics of “good” writing that they soaked up in their various MFA programs.

Few people even mentioned that these same aesthetics have fostered an exclusionary, classist, racist, and sexist literary community since ancient times, fetishizing Western aesthetics as superior, and in fact, “civilized,” while relegating non-white authors to the status of “other.” This is still the case: Women’s Fiction, Asian-American poetry, LGBT/Special Interest.

I guess this is partially my own fault for insisting on attending the writing pedagogy panels, answering such banal questions as “how do we teach writing?” I care because I’m a professional writing tutor, but I also care because I acknowledge the political implications of literacy and language fluency. This is not a prerequisite for teachers of composition, either creative or academic.

On the bright side, the panels that I more or less stumbled upon in search of my friends ended up counteracting the cluelessness of the pedagogy panels: unlikeable women characters, queer literary communities, and publishing politics were all represented–if not always well-attended.

There has to be a formula for successful conference attendance, a code written into panel descriptions to clue attendees into the actual usefulness or self-awareness of each event. This may be something that I myself have to devise through trial and error–and the input of my fellow critical readers & writers.

Bone

The Bone PeopleThe Bone People by Keri Hulme
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still probably the most overwhelming and spectacular novel I can conjure up. The prose is sometimes whimsical, sometimes bizarre, but always breathtaking. Hulme stirs up the overlays of dreams, fantasies, ghostworlds, violence, and healing in this massive, indomitable novel. A must for hybrid genre enthusiasts, as Hulme’s language is part-Maori, part-poetry, and miraculously fresh. This novel is like nothing you have ever read before, weaving dreamscapes into stories and harnessing the complex relationships that make us human, even while we are fraught with despair.

This novel rocked my world; even my language changed for the writing of this review, reconnecting to an organic flow that I usually suppress. Unbelievable.

View all my reviews

Wright

Native SonNative Son by Richard Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Phew. This novel is exhausting. I needed to go for a run and have a drink after this unbearable tale of grief, hopelessness, ennui, and racism. Wright’s prose is sparse and philosophical, resulting in the sort of haunting, detached narration that makes this novel so successful. A great read for more cerebral folks; I will echo that the last third feels like Wright letting off political steam after the supercharged first two thirds of the narrative.

View all my reviews