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The Negative Culture of Book Reviewing

By Craig Santos Perez

i was missing harriet so i am thankful to travis & catherine for allowing me to post during national poetry month!

just finished reading craig morgan teicher’s essay, “what poetry reviews are for (and up against),” at publishers weekly. i always enjoy reading craig’s reviews and i found his essay’s insights enlightening and measured. i also enjoyed kent johnson’s MayDay feature on negative reviews. and yes, i enjoyed each interview that sina has done over at lemonhound on book reviewing (scroll down the sidebar to link to the interviews).

in craig’s essay, he writes: “But in almost any conversation on the topic of poetry reviews, one question comes up: what’s the point? This question isn’t always asked with the flippant air that actually means “who cares?” Often, people really want to know: what is accomplished by poetry reviews? Do they help sell books? Do they keep the art form in line? Do they spur writers into creating better poetry or kick bad writers out of the halls of Parnassus? Do poetry reviews help readers?”

while i agree that these questions are important, one question that always comes to my mind on the topic of poetry reviews is why is there such a dearth of reviews of poetry books by writers of color?


i’ve written about this question at my blog in two posts titled “writing about book reviews is so much more important than writing book reviews” (read here and here).

and perhaps we can argue that the dominant culture of book reviewing is “negative” in the sense it often negates the presence of ethnic-authored books from critical discourse.

i started writing book reviews in 2007 to address the question directly…most (tho not all) of the 58 reviews that i’ve published since then (which you can link to here) are reviews of books by writers of color.

obviously, the reviewing habits of reviewers and editors should directly address this question.

to diversify our reviewing habits, a good thing for folks to do is to read journals/sites that focus on ethnic literature–looking for new books to review and good reviewers to commission. this list is not complete (but reflects my own reading habits) & i’d love to hear about more journals that consistently review ethnic poets (leave a comment on my blog and i can add your contribution to this post).

for lation/a lit:

rigoberto gonzalez’ review column at the el paso times (162 reviews since 2002!)

the latino poetry review (issue 1 & issue 2)

for asian american lit:

asian american literature fans

lantern review

cha: an asian american literary journal

for african american lit:

african american review

qbr: the black book review

aalbc: african american literature book club

for native american/global indigenous lit:

SAIL: studies in american indian literature

The Contemporary Pacific

Comparative:

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States

~


Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, April 5th, 2010 by Craig Santos Perez.