“Where is your ‘White literature’ section?

Author, professor, and provocateur Amitava Kumar has a very specific question for New York City book clerks.

It would be performance art—a bit like doing brownface, except not. The idea thrilled him as soon as it was proposed by his editors. He was to go to a few bookstores in New York City and ask: “Where is your ‘White literature’ section?”

He began with McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street.

In the display window he saw some of his friends’ books; there was a reading that evening by his pal who had written about an Indian-American man who lived out in the desert with his angry wife and autistic son. Inside there was a café. At one table, two women were talking in German. He returned to the front desk, but there were several people there and he felt intimidated. Coming back to the café section, he asked for a Moroccan mint tea.

The windows had been thrown open. It was a lovely spring morning. The girl in the shop opposite had come out onto the street and was photographing her displays—three large teddy bears in short dresses. A young man sat down next to him with his cappuccino and a black, bound copy of Bolaño’s Antwerp. The man went back to the front desk.

“Where is your ‘White literature’ section?”

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