Monday, January 28, 2013

Jack London is Dead:

Contemporary Euro-American Poetry of Hawai'i

Of the anthology, Tinfish's Editor Susan Schultz writes, "Many white (or, as this anthology calls them, Euro-American) poets have made Hawaiʻi home, either permanently or for a significant portion of their lives. But in a place marked by communities of writers marked as Local or Asian or Indigenous, there is no such community of Euro-American writers. Euro-American poetry seems to exist at two poles, either as the writing still to be resisted by non-white writers, or as work that comes from somewhere else, and is thus not relevant to Hawaiʻi’s literature. This anthology features seventeen writers of poetry (and some prose), as well as their statements about being a Euro-American writer in Hawaiʻi. It looks at what happens after Euro-American literature has been de-centered, de-canonized. Jack London is Dead presents writers whose work has been deeply influenced by Hawaiʻi, and whose poetry adds valuable voices to a complicated mix of ethnic cultures. Featured in this volume are the more experimental of the myriad Euro-American voices among Hawaiʻi’s many exciting writers."

I think this anthology made us all--and still does make us--nervous.  And I think that anxiety speaks to of the value of the anthology (plus there is a huge range of good writing in it).  I think this anthology attempts to initiate an open conversation about race from a place that I don't think talks about race openly very often.  It's a conversation that I hope people both in and out of Hawai'i don't avoid participating in. Thank you, Susan Schultz, for asking me to think through what it means to be a white writer (and also outsider) in Hawai'i, and how my life in Hawai'i has impacted my writing over the last four years.  It has been a useful experience.

Here is a thoughtful conversation about the anthology, which recently appeared on Hawai'i Public Radio.

You can buy the anthology here and here.

This is what some people are saying about the experiment:

“To contested questions of agency and authenticity in contemporary Hawaiʻi, this collection makes an important contribution. By clearing a public space for White authors to think (and write) through issues of a positionality compromised by the ruptures of historical violence and present day colonialism, editor Susan M. Schultz has done a brave thing. There are those who will object to this project by challenging the right of non-Indigenous “others” to write about Hawaiʻi. However, the sensitivity of featured authors to the complex instability of their own standing as White writers in Hawaiʻi offers a nuanced, layered response to that call of challenge. Without closing our eyes to history, without denying any legacy of oppression or cooptation, and as citizens of the 21st century with so much at stake for a shared planet, it seems to me that this conversation may be one of the most important and difficult, yes, but necessary ones before us.”

—Caroline Sinavaiana, author of Alchemies of Distance; Side Effects, A Pilgrimage; and co-author of Mohawk/Samoa: Transmigrations

“The volume exemplifies ways in which ethnicity and ethnic identities are indeed fluid and historically contingent. Through this experiment, we see a poignant example of how the positionality of ethnic identities tends to shift quite quickly when one factors in the political, social and cultural circumstances in which such identities are formed and experienced in the contexts of power, discrimination, and belonging.”

—Elisa Joy White, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, author of  
Modernity, Freedom and the African Diaspora: Dublin, New Orleans, Paris

“This anthology sets itself the ambitious task of convening a group of white (Euro-American) writers for the purposes of a poetic conversation, both with Euro-American and Hawaiian literary traditions and cultural histories. In convening this assortment of writers – which it hesitates to label a community – its project is not so much to map a genealogy of whiteness as to open out new perspectives on white writers who may find themselves inhabiting positions as both majority and minority practitioners, who may index white hegemony while simultaneously being marked by a lack of legitimacy. The writers represented in this book defy easy categorisation in spite of the apparent self-evidence of the subtitle.”

—Anne Brewster, Associate Professor, School of English, Media and Performing Arts at University of New South Wales

“While many of the writers are stylistically experimental, aiming to convey new experiences of being, the Introduction and Author Statements provide inviting roadmaps that actively include readers—a poignant reversal of the theme of racial and cultural exclusion often expressed here. Jack London is Dead is essential reading for anyone interested in discovering the best of contemporary writing. How we mythologize ourselves and others, the difficulties of expressing our identities in language, the relationship between humans and nature, the sense of being and not-being part of where we are, the complexities of aesthetic heritage—these are abiding themes of art addressed by the exhilaratingly varied writers in this anthology. This volume feels both rooted in a place and rooted in its creators. This collection will be a classic.”

—Lauri Ramey, author of Slave Songs and the Birth of African American Poetry, Director of the Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, California State University, Los Angeles