Category Archives: Race

Diversity in publishing is under attack. I hear the sound of knuckles dragging

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below)

The furore over Penguin’s wise and brave decision to “reflect the diversity of British society” in its publishing and hiring output seems to have awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears. They appear to believe that what is called “diversity” or “positive action” will lead to a dilution of their culture. Their stupidity and the sound of their pathetic whining would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for Britain. You might even want to call it a form of self-loathing; it is certainly unpatriotic and lacking in generosity.

The industries I’ve worked in for most of my life – film, TV, theatre, publishing – have all been more or less entirely dominated by white Oxbridge men, and they still mostly are. These men and their lackeys have been the beneficiaries of positive discrimination, to say the least, for centuries. The world has always been theirs, and they now believe they own it.

Some of us have been fortunate enough to force a way through the maze and make a living as artists. It was a difficult and often humiliating trip, I can tell you. There was much patronisation and many insults on the way, and they are still going on.

 

Same as it ever was: Orientalism 40 years later

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In addition to reading the classics like Edward Said and Jack Shaheen, I recommend exploring contemporary Arab and Arab American writers and scholars. There is no shortage of them, of us. For one place to start, check out the list of Arab American Book Award winners. In terms of scholarship, Evelyn Alsultany’s Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation After 9/11 (2012) updates Said to explore how contemporary media often deploy a “good Arab” to create the illusion of complex representation, what she calls a “simplified complex representation.” In terms of literature, Khaled Mattawa’s lyrical poems and translations have brought into English so much beauty and wisdom. Likewise the work of the indefatigable Marilyn Hacker, in her poems and translations. Marcia Lynx Qualey’s blog called Arabic Literature in English provides a constant reading list. Interlink Books deserves special mention, and there are at least three literary magazines devoted to Arab literature: MiznaBanipal, and Sukoon. For me, the existence of RAWI (the Radius of Arab American Writers) has made me feel a little more at home in the world, and at home in myself. RAWI is home to many prominent Arab American writers, including a core group with whom I regularly group-text: Hayan Charara, Marwa Helal, Randa Jarrar, Fady Joudah, Farid Matuk, Deema Shehabi.

In poetry, Hayan Charara is the master of dread, whose poems tip the earth beneath us, sliding into the unspeakable; on text, he shares goofy photos of his kids, usually dressed up in hilarious outfits. In poetry, Marwa Helal invented a new kind of poem, the Arabic, which reads right to left; on text, she’s the one who hearts us most, and keeps us hip to slang and people like DJ Khaled, whose embrace of the good life is equal parts hip hop and Arab. In her essays, stories, and Tweets, Jarrar’s drawn to the funny and provocative; one troll called her novel “a handbook on masturbation.” In group-text, she alternates between hilarity and sweetness. Fady Joudah’s just another award-winning poet and translator, whose surprising response to the Levinson affair and other grotesqueries, “Say It: I’m Arab and Beautiful,” ought to be read by everyone, vibrating as it is with the birth-pangs of something new. Farid Matuk’s baby girl pops up in group-text, as she does in his new and highly experimental poems, when he’s not going high-theory in voluminous and impeccable texts. Deema Shehabi’s two boys, and her kindness, radiating always, rhymes with her jasmine-scented and fierce poems. What does it mean to know her grandfather was once the mayor of Gaza?

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The man who remade Arabic poetry

Adonis’s poems reflect a lifelong argument with his culture.

In March, 2011, when civil protests broke out in cities and towns across Syria, the country’s most famous poet, Adonis—who is in his eighties and has lived in exile since the mid-nineteen-fifties—hesitated to support the demonstrators. Although he had welcomed earlier uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, he flinched when Syria’s turn came. In an editorial published in al-Hayat, a leading Arabic newspaper, in May, 2011, by which time more than a thousand protesters were dead and government tanks had shelled several towns, Adonis wrote, “I will never agree to participate in a demonstration that comes out of a mosque.” He portrayed the opposition as young naïfs, easily coöpted by canny Islamists who dreamed of establishing a religious authoritarianism that would be even worse than the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Adonis’s assessment of the demonstrators echoed the rhetoric coming from the regime, and many readers were dismayed. For the past sixty years, he has tirelessly called for radical change in every sphere of Arab life, and he is the author of some of the most revolutionary poems in Arabic. Sadiq Jalal al-‘Azm, an eminent philosopher at the University of Damascus, was bewildered that Adonis, “the man of freedom, transformation, revolution, progress, and modernity,” should “disparage if not condemn the Syrian revolution from its outset.” But for Adonis the Syrian uprising was no revolution. In a recent interview in French (he has lived in Paris since the mid-nineteen-eighties), he claimed, “It is impossible, in a society like Arab society, to make a revolution unless it is founded on the principle of laïcité ”—the French term for a stringent secularism. Long before the emergence of the Islamic State’s caliphate, Adonis warned that the alliance of theology with state power was the region’s most deep-rooted danger.

Adonis’s long poem “Concerto al-Quds,” published in Arabic in 2012 and now available in an English translation by Khaled Mattawa (Yale), is the poet’s secularist summa, a condemnation of monotheism couched in the form of a surrealist montage. Its subject is Jerusalem—al-Quds, in Arabic—the spiritual center for all three monotheistic faiths and the site of their most apocalyptic imaginings. In the Islamic tradition, Jerusalem was the first qibla (the direction faced in prayer), the starting point of the Prophet Muhammad’s trip to the heavens (al-mi‘raj), and also the place where the archangel Israfil will blow his trumpet on the Day of Resurrection. In Judaism, the city is the site of the First and Second Temples, both destroyed, and the envisaged site of a third. In the Book of Revelation, John beholds a “new Jerusalem” descending from the heavens and hears a voice describing the life to come: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

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Philippine Literature in the Spanish Colonial Period

The existing literature of the Philippine ethnic groups at the time of conquest and conversion into Christianity was mainly oral, consisting of epics, legends, songs, riddles, and proverbs. The conquistador, especially its ecclesiastical arm, destroyed whatever written literature he could find, and hence rendered the system of writing (e.g., the Tagalog syllabary) inoperable. Among the only native systems of writing that have survived are the syllabaries of the Mindoro Mangyans and the Tagbanua of Palawan.

 The Spanish colonial strategy was to undermine the native oral tradition by substituting for it the story of the Passion of Christ (Lumbera, p. 14). Although Christ was by no means war-like or sexually attractive as many of the heroes of the oral epic tradition, the appeal of the Jesus myth inhered in the protagonist’s superior magic: by promising eternal life for everyone, he democratized the power to rise above death. It is to be emphasized, however, that the native tradition survived and even flourished in areas inaccessible to the colonial power. Moreover, the tardiness and the lack of assiduity of the colonial administration in making a public educational system work meant the survival of oral tradition, or what was left of it, among the conquered tribes.

The church authorities adopted a policy of spreading the Church doctrines by communicating to the native (pejoratively called Indio) in his own language. Doctrina Christiana (1593), the first book to be printed in the Philippines, was a prayerbook written in Spanish with an accompanying Tagalog translation. It was, however, for the exclusive use of the missionaries who invariably read them aloud to the unlettered Indio catechumens (Medina), who were to rely mainly on their memory. But the task of translating religious instructional materials obliged the Spanish missionaries to take a most practical step, that of employing native speakers as translators. Eventually, the native translator learned to read and write both in Spanish and his native language.

This development marked the beginning of Indio literacy and thus spurred the creation of the first written literary native text by the native. These writers, called ladinos because of their fluency in both Spanish and Tagalog (Medina, pp. 55-56), published their work, mainly devotional poetry, in the first decade of the 17th century. Among the earliest writers of note were Francisco de San Jose and Francisco Bagongbata (Medina). But by far the most gifted of these native poet-translators was Gaspar Aquino de Belen (Lumbera, p.14). Mahal Na Pasion ni Jesu Christo, a Tagalog poem based on Christ’s passion, was published in 1704. This long poem, original and folksy in its rendition of a humanized, indeed, a nativized Jesus, is a milestone in the history of Philippine letters. Ironically — and perhaps just because of its profound influence on the popular imagination — as artifact it marks the beginning of the end of the old mythological culture and a conversion to the new paradigm introduced by the colonial power.

Until the 19th century, the printing presses were owned and managed by the religious orders (Lumbera, p.13). Thus, religious themes dominated the culture of the Christianized majority. But the native oral literature, whether secular or mythico-religious continued. Even among the Christianized ethnic groups, the oral tradition persisted in such forms as legends, sayings, wedding songs such as the balayan and parlor theater such as the duplo (Medina, p. 32).

In the 18th century, secular literature from Spain in the form of medieval ballads inspired the native poetic-drama form called the komedya, later to be called moro-moro because these often dealt with the theme of Christians triumphing over Moslems (Lumbera, p. 15).

Jose de la Cruz (1746 – 1829) was the foremost exponent of the komedya during his time. A poet of prodigious output and urbane style, de la Cruz marks a turning point in that his elevated diction distinguishes his work from folk idiom (as for instance, that of Gaspar Aquino de Belen). Yet his appeal to the non-literate was universal. The popularity of the dramatic form, of which he was a master, was due to it being experienced as performance both by the lettered minority and the illiterate but genuinely appreciative majority.

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10 Must Read Women Writers From The Middle East

The tradition of female writers from the Middle-East has been vastly growing in the twentieth century, with new generations of writers determined to give women a voice and represent issues regarding feminism, identity and class from a female perspective. From fiction to non-fiction writers, we profile ten fantastic female writers from the Middle-East. Layla Baalbaki

 

Widely acknowledged to be a pioneer in women’s writing in the Middle-East, Layla Baalbaki was one of the first writers to give women a voice in Arab literature, focusing primarily on female issues. Her 1958 novel I Live is a work far ahead of its time, revolving around a young Lebanese woman as she attempts to negotiate her place in the world; striving for political, social and financial independence. Sadly, Baalbaki’s honest exploration of women’s innermost emotions was met with controversy and hostility and she was charged with obscenity and immorality. Although eventually acquitted, Baalbaki wrote no works of fiction after 1964 and turned instead to journalism.

A noted Algerian feminist author, Assia Djebar is well known for examining the plight of Algerian women within a post-colonial context. Her works include the collection of short stories Women of Algiers in Their Apartment (1980), inspired by Delacroix’s famous The Women of Algiers (1834). These respond to the Orientalist and patriarchal structures surrounding contemporary Algerian society and attempt to demonstrate the ongoing inequality which defines women’s lives. Djebar was elected to the Académie Française – a historic organization which seeks to uphold and protect French heritage and language – in 2005, the first Magreb writer to receive this honor.

Born and raised in Baghdad, where she studied journalism at university, Inaam Kachachi moved to Paris in 1979, where she has lived ever since. As well as regularly writing pieces for Arabic-language newspapers, Kachachi has published several novels which examine issues of displacement and homeland, as well as the brutal reality of Iraq today. Frustrated by the religious and didactic turn literature in Iraq has taken, Kachachi attempts to authentically portray complex characters in the Iraq which she experienced. Her most recent novel Tashari (2013) stretches back to the 1950s and explores the changing sociopolitical dynamic of the country through one family and their eventual dispersal across the globe. This novel was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

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The Asian American Women Writers Who Are Going to Change the World

This past year of national chaos has often had me thinking, What if? What if, before this year, I’d spoken up more, given more, fought more? On the one hand, if I’d allocated the entirety of my waking hours toward canvassing for the side of political good, I still, in all likelihood, wouldn’t have prevented this year’s kakistocratic events. But if a thousand people like me had done more? Ten thousand?

What-if rue like this is mostly useless, but it can, at least, help lead to future action. Toward that end, I’ve felt heartened and inspired by the examples set forth by fellow writers — especially, at times, by politically outspoken Asian American women. It’s a demographic often expected to be relatively quiet, even docile; what’s more, we’re routinely labeled the so-called model minority, a hateful idea trying to press us into the service of white supremacy. It’s evil shit, and not-at-all-quiet exemplars abound, including Nayomi Munaweera, Celeste Ng, Vanessa Hua, Nicole Chung, Alice Sola Kim, Jarry Lee, Rachel Khong, Tanwi Nandini Islam, Aimee Phan, Vauhini Vara, Jenny Zhang, Karissa Chen, Mira Jacob, Kat Chow, Steph Cha, Kirstin Chen, Tracy O’Neill, Larissa Pham, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Suki Kim, Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Sonya Larson, Shuchi Saraswat, Catherine Chung, Shanthi Sekaran, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, Jia Tolentino, Hasanthika Sirisena, Nina McConigley, Krys Lee, Solmaz Sharif, Ru Freeman, Lisa Ko, Janice Lee, Katrina Dodson, Aja Gabel, Sonya Chung, Jade Chang, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, T. Kira Madden, and, and, and.

In this roundtable, I spoke with four such vocal women: V.V. Ganeshananthan, Porochista Khakpour, Bich Minh Nguyen, and Esmé Weijun Wang. They’re all versatile writers who frequently work across genres, splendid novelists who also write candid, powerful nonfiction, and who are brilliantly forthright about their political views. Here’s Ganeshananthan in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop’s Margins about who gets to write what they don’t know, and her essay “The Politics of Grief” in Granta. Here’s Khakpour on writing as an Iranian American in Catapult, and her essay “How Can I Be a Refugee Twice?” in CNN. Nguyen wrote about being a refugee in Literary Hub, and, along with Karissa Chen and Celeste Ng, published a rap-battle response to Calvin Trillin’s “Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet?” Finally, take a look at Wang in Buzzfeed about the “good” schizophrenic, and in The Believer about metaphors of mental illness.

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LiterASIAN, North America’s First Asian Literature Festival, Celebrates Asian Canadian Culture, History, Storytelling

On the weekend of September 21, the streets of Chinatown will play host to a literary feast. On the menu is a collection of stories exploring the Canadian experience. Yet this isn’t the stereotypical western spread — attendees will be diving into an often-untold side of Canadian culture and history: the Asian Canadian experience.

LiterASIAN, an annual festival of Pacific Rim Asian Canadian writing, is the first Asian literature festival in North America. Founded by the late Jim Wong-Chu — his 1986 poetry book, Chinatown Ghosts, was one of the first published by an Asian Canadian — the four day-long festival is packed with panel discussions, workshops, and a variety of book launches from acclaimed writers like Jen Sookfong Lee.

“LiterASIAN is a grassroots festival that celebrates Canadian diversity,” says co-founder and Festival Director Allan Cho. “For a long time, literature has presented the Canadian experience as the British experience. This means that many of us have not seen the other side of Canada. Part of the festival is to showcase unique stories, stories that find their inspiration in Chinatown, Japantown, and Little India. It intends to give a full-bodied Canadian experience.”

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‘The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature’ Opens Doors Hitherto Closed to Us

Yunte Huang grapples with some monumental subject matter, and the results are spellbinding. A thrilling journey into the literary soul of today’s China.

Yunte Huang has his work cut out. You could say that the author, translator, and academic has set himself the impossible task. In the introduction to The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature, he describes his project as a “search of the soul of modern China”; an endeavour hampered by the fact that there is no such thing as a single modern China, but several.

Huang is well aware of this. His search begins in 1911, with the 20th century still just an infant, but with one of history’s most enduring dynasties lumbering to a close. The Great Qing, founded by Nurhaci in 1616, is sputtering towards its death throes. Child-emperor Puyi sits precariously on the Imperial throne, and republican fervour is in the air.

Is this the beginning of modern China; the Xinhai Revolution which saw Sun Yat Sen bring an end to thousands of years of imperial rule? Or did this transition to modernity occur later, when combined Nationalist, Communist and international forces drove the invading Japanese from China? Or was it later still, when Mao Ze Dong’s communist PLA achieved total control in the country?

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Excerpts

Eve out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi

Eve out of Her Ruins_Cover Spread

Eve

The inspector finally agreed to take me to the morgue. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to get me in. He must have connections. That, and he feels sad for me. I don’t care how he did it, I just care that I’ll get to see Savita.

In the morgue, both the light and smell are greenish. I thought the movies would have prepared me for this. But movies have nothing to do with reality. It’s totally different here. The filth in the corners. The ceiling blooming with mold. Chemical smells coming from the    walls.

My whole body goes weak. The place is heavy with their presence. Everybody who came through here has left traces. On the walls, on the ground, on the ceiling, in the air. Like invisible lips sealed to their silence. Nobody ever leaves completely.

The inspector holds me by my arm and says, you don’t have to.

No, I’ve never had to.

I shake my arm free. I don’t want to turn back.

After what she’s gone through, I can go through everything. And then, in my head, I saw her a thousand times like this. I keep seeing her, in that envelope of death. And now I actually do see her. Unmoving and pale. Her face glazed, rigid, solid. The bruises still on her neck from the murderer’s fingers. I know her, yet she is wholly unrecognizable. Her youthfulness, I think. When death comes to someone so young, it makes her unrecognizable. And there’s a bluish, almost purplish tint to her skin. I reel from the strangeness of it all.

But I do recognize her mouth. I hold on to that. That mouth with its darkened edges is her mouth, Savita’s mouth, I’m happy to see it again in all its perfection at last, yes, I haven’t started to forget her features like I’d feared a second ago, I haven’t betrayed her, I still have that memory of her mouth in me as something so precious that, for the rest of   my life, all my senses will bring it back to me.

I explain to her that I was by the stream, and that was the reason I didn’t hear anything. I tell her that for me, it’s life that’s distorting my features and making me unrecognizable.

My hand touches her cheek. I lean in, but the inspector holds me back. No, he says.

He takes me to a small café where the flies are more plentiful than the diners. I want for him to tell me something, for him to ask for something in exchange for the service he’s rendered. He doesn’t ask for anything. But he asks me questions. By the dirty window, I see the world going by. Yes, there’s a world, over there, out there, that doesn’t know Savita and where lives haven’t stopped along with hers. I tell him everything, without really knowing why. How old I was when I began, where I went. I describe these places he knows so well. His questions take me further and further. My actions are getting crazier, I can tell. That’s what he thinks: this girl is crazy.

He looks at me as if he can’t believe me: And you’re still alive? he says.

What was the use of it all? he asks, again. His big hands on the table are trembling and fiddling with a paper napkin to the point that there aren’t anything but shreds left. I wouldn’t like to be a criminal he’d arrested. There isn’t any skin that would resist those hands.

I finally answer his question:

To slip through the cracks. To… To what?

To go on.

The next question had to be, go on to where, but he doesn’t ask it. His eyes are tired and my thoughts are completely blank. I was thinking about buying myself a life. But I don’t know which one.

He asks me if I have any health problems. I know what he’s talking about, but I pretend not to understand. I show him the blue bruise on my cheek, which has turned yellow: these sorts of problems, yes, every day, I   say.

He isn’t looking at me anymore, I think he’s trying to imagine what they did to me, what they made me do, what they’ll make me do again, in the mirror behind the bar I see us and I know I look young, too young, a bit of string, a little burned thing, and I know he’d like to keep me from slipping further down, but he doesn’t know anything at all.

Suddenly, he gets angry:

What if I shoved you in prison for a bit of time, you’d have to stop, that’d make you get better, wouldn’t it?

I get up to leave. The conversation’s over. There’s nothing else to say.

It’s hard to keep believing, he says quietly. But you have to defend yourself. I want you to stay alive.

He takes me back to Troumaron. In the car I don’t say anything. But I remember something he said: Savita wasn’t raped. I think he said that to reassure me. But then why was she killed? There was no anger there, no sexual violence. For the fun of it? Or to shut her up?

We pull up in front of the buildings. The sky is low. Here, there’s always something watching. Some spirit that’s vibrating, living, malignant.

He comes and opens the door of the jeep for me. I’m not used to that. Before I step down, he slips something into my bag.

Only use it to protect yourself, understand? he says very quietly.

I look down. I don’t know why he did that. I didn’t give him anything.

He holds me by the shoulders as I step down, and rubs them a bit.

He’s talking in English. Be good, he says. I shrug. It’s too late to be good.

It’s only once he’s gone that I realize that we were right in the middle of all the buildings. Every window’s facing us. Everybody saw me come back to Troumaron in a police car, everybody saw the inspector whispering in my ear. I colluded with the enemy. As usual, I’d done what I shouldn’t have. I can almost hear through these windows what everybody must be thinking furiously: this time, she went too far.

The ground starts to give way beneath my feet and cave in just as I walk into my apartment building.

But, after all, there was never any ground under my feet.

***

Excerpted from ‘Eve out of her Ruins’ by Ananda Devi published by Speaking Tiger

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With brutal honesty and poetic urgency, Ananda Devi relates the tale of four young Mauritians trapped in their country’s endless cycle of fear and violence: Eve, whose body is her only weapon and source of power; Savita, Eve’s best friend, the only one who loves Eve without self-interest, and who ha plans to leave but will not go alone; Saadiq, gifted would-be poet, inspired by Rimbaud, in love with Eve; Clélio, belligerent rebel, waiting without hope for his brother to send for him from France.

Eve out of her Ruins is a heartbreaking look at the dark corners of the island nation of Mauritius that tourists never see, and a poignant exploration of the construction of personhood at the margins of society. Awarded the prestigious Prix des cinq continents upon publication as the best book written in French outside France, Eve out of her Ruins  is a harrowing account of the violent reality of life in her native country by the figurehead of Mauritian literature.

About the Author:

AnandaAnanda Devi is a Mauritian writer of Telugu and Creole descent. She has published eleven novels as well as short stories and poetry, and was featured at the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in 2015. She has won multiple literary awards, including the Prix du Rayonnement de la langue et de la literature françaises (2014), the Prix Mokanda (2012), the Prix Louis-Guilloux (2010), and the Prix RFO du livre (2006). Devi was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010.

 

I’m Indian. Can I Write Black Characters?

“The debate about whether writers should create worlds and characters based in cultures other than their own is an important one.”

In retrospect, it seems incredible I didn’t anticipate the questions.

My seventh novel, “Everybody’s Son” — about an affluent white couple, their adopted black son, and his search for identity and reconciliation with his past — came to me in a flash of inspiration. I wrote the story in a white heat, in about four months.

So I was unprepared for what interviewers I spoke to about the book asked me: Why, and how, had I chosen to write from the perspective of an African-American protagonist? I hadn’t expected this line of inquiry to come up because, although race and racial identity are central preoccupations of the book, I saw Anton not just as a black character, but as a singular, distinctive character born of my imagination and efforts.

I soon realized I had been naïve. While I might define myself as an American writer, I grew up in India. That means, to many, I’ll always be an Indian-American writer, with all the freight that the hyphen carries.

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