I’ve found a few reminders lately that people are listening – Thalia Gigerenzer took note of my poem “Island Home” during her Litcrawl adventures in October, for example. And check this out – Michael Berger from The Rumpus shared some of my thoughts on danger in poetry!
Before I become convinced that the whole word is hearing my words, though, I’m stopping to wonder who really listens to a voice like mine. Can my work really be a part of what most people think of as literature, or do I belong in an Other category?
In this piece on The Rumpus, LaToya Jordan points out an idea that mainstream best-of literature lists often perpetuate – that stories about white people are regarded as universal, while stories about people of color are believed to be for people of color. Jordan is responding to this brilliant piece by Roxane Gay about the lack of diversity in Best American Short Stories 2010. Gay’s assertion that “segregation is alive and well when it comes to what we read” is unsettling. Am I just being naïve in thinking that I can set out as a queer writer of color to speak to universal truths? Should I simply set about marketing my work to “my people” and accept that it will never be read in mainstream circles?
Being that my poems are my own, it’s impossible for me to read my work as someone else would. So I have no idea if it speaks to people universally or not. I know that I hope my work can speak to folks like me, say a young queer girl of color who feels misunderstood. I’d also hope, though, that I could reach some of the folks who misunderstand her, say a man of a different age who can’t see what it’s like to be her until he recognizes those universal truths the two of them can both hold. Ultimately, I aim for what Gay describes as great writing:
“I believe great writing can and should transcend things like race and gender and class. Great writing should be writing that is so powerful it elevates us beyond the things that characterize us in our daily lives. And yet, I also believe that writing should tell us things we don’t already know and give us insights into the lives of people who are completely different from us or anyone we know. Great writing should challenge us and make us uncomfortable and push our boundaries.”
I’d never get a chance to challenge readers in this way, though, if my work was kept on those shelves designated Other. So, not just for my sake but for all those talented writers of Other whose work you may tragically never know, I hope we can all open our literary leanings to reach beyond what feels familiar.