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For Apogee, Anelise Chen’s Take on the Alternate Canon

By Harriet Staff

Anelise Chen

“The Western literary canon represents a paper thin slice of all the excellent writing that exists in the world, yet it dominates the narrative of what literature is,” write the editors of Apogee Journal. “Following the MFA vs POC debate … Apogee Journal will be compiling an Alternate Canon as a resource for readers, writers and teachers of writing.”

To launch the series, Anelise Chen has written on her debt to Trinh T. Minh-ha’s classic text, Woman, Native, Other, and the shame that surrounds being an immigrant woman writer: “Trinh T. Minh-ha identifies this guilt as unique to women writers (particularly Third World women writers), who aren’t accustomed to viewing their hours as anything other than ‘a loaf of bread less to share with the family.; Writing is perceived as a ‘selfish’ activity that comes at the expense of family and community, otherwise a ‘luxurious’ activity for a more privileged class and sex.” She goes on to consider Aimé Césaire and a lot of books in the “alternate canon” that have saved her from dismissing her own work:

…The good news is that this guilt is not always destructive. It also nourishes a deep reserve of empathy. As Aimé Césaire reminds himself in Return to My Native Land: “Beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of grief is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing bear.” Guilt opens up perspective through a sense of shared struggle. That, too, is part of the exchange.

Writing is not easy. I struggle with it every day. Even now I tend to talk about my writing dismissively. I tell people I am “doing nothing” or that my writing is “worthless.” I fall into the same defeatist traps all the time. These books and essays have encouraged me and commiserated with me when I’ve been ready to give up, burn it up. Some I read very early in my writing life, some very recently. To their authors I owe everything.

Trinh T. Minh-ha – Woman, Native, Other
Theresa Cha – Dictee
Nawal el Saadawi – Woman at Point Zero
Gloria Anzaldua – Borderlands
Marguerite Duras – Writing
Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation
Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own
Sandra Cisernos – House on Mango Street
Maxine Hong Kingston – Tripmaster Monkey
Alice Walker – “Saving the Life that is Your Own”
Audre Lorde – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
Nikki Giovanni – Ego Tripping
Octavia Butler – “Speech Sounds”
June Jordan – “Nobody Mean More to Me than You”
Zadie Smith – “Speaking in Tongues”
Kate Zambreno – Heroines
Valeria Luiselli – Faces in the Crowd
Editors Bushra Rehman and Daisy Hernandez – Colonize This!

Thank you, Anelise! Great list. Read it all at Apogee.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014 by Harriet Staff.