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Responding to Jack London is Dead: Contemporary Euro-American Poetry of Hawai’i
In late 2012, TinFish press released Jack London Is Dead: Contemporary Euro-American Poetry of Hawai’i. On the Tinfish Editor’s Blog, Susan Schultz responds to some early reactions and feedback on the anthology. The first exchange she writes about highlights some of the controversy and (productive) tension surrounding the collection:
“Are you still terrified, now that the book is out?” asked a Honolulu Weekly reporter.
No. If only for the wonderful poems and responses to the question, “what is it like to be a Euro-American writer in/from Hawai`i,” the project was worth the early feeling of breaking a taboo.
In order to understand the context of why such an anthology would be taboo, it’s helpful to know more about some of the questions that helped Schultz frame the collection in the first place:
What does it mean to be Caucasian, to be Hawaiian, in Hawai`i? The question presumes that “white writing” is dominant, that if a Hawaiian writer is not in touch with his culture, he will “write white.” But this anthology is not about dominant white culture; instead, it’s about a culture that is perpetually questioned, like all cultures in Hawai`i. It’s not the culture presumed to exist on the mainland (which does not include Appalachia, certainly, or other regional white cultures), the culture that is seen to blot out other cultures. The writing in this anthology is not central, it’s also the activity of “outsiders.” As such, the book could have included other “outsiders,” like African Americans who live and write in Hawai`i. It’s about whiteness as an experience, not with race as essentialism. There’s a sense in Hawai`i of “whiteness” as a monolith; this book attempts to break that model. The multitude of approaches to poetry (and fiction) found in the book obviate the notion of monolithic, monotone, mono-culture, or (tellingly) of white culture as no culture at all.
Of course, the subject of Euro-American writing in Hawai`i isn’t a new one for Schultz. Interested readers can check out her contributions to Jacket2 as well as her posts and essays about Judy Rohrer’s book on haoles; on“writing while white”; on Tony Quagliano’s work; on Juliana Spahr’s Hawai`i writing; and on Steve Shrader.