Friday, February 08, 2008

Continuing the Conversation



(Left to Right: Tim Seibles, Joseph O. Legaspi, Cornelius Eady, Sarah Gambino, Toi Derricotte, and Oliver de la Paz)

I took this photo at the joint panel between Cave Canem and Kundiman, in which they explained how the two groups are linked.

I talk about these two groups on my blog a lot but for those who don’t know, Cave Canem (CC) is an organization dedicated to the development and growth of African American poets. Founded by poets Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, CC is celebrating more than 10 years of nurturing writers. Five years ago, poets Joseph Legaspi and Sarah Gambino mirrored those efforts to form an Asian American poetry community. And so Kundiman was born, giving voice to some of the most talented yet underrepresented and underserved writers in the literary community.

AWP is a terrific forum for discussions on publishing and academics, but maybe it lacks enough space for “the writing life.” Many of the panelists talked about their experiences as the only one (the only black, the only Asian) in a creative writing class. I’ve certainly taken workshops where I’ve had to explain—sometimes justify—my experiences beyond what’s written in the poem, which sometimes leads to answering question for all blacks. If you’ve ever had that feeling of being the only one of your kind in a group, then you know what I mean.

What the two groups reflect is the strength of the collective. As proof positive, there are more African American, Asian, Latino/a, and Gay and Lesbian writers in contemporary modern poetry being published, receiving tenure, and winning awards than ever before. There’s something to be said for affinity—because this is not just about race or ethnicity, but finding a safe space to nurture emerging voices.

This session was about coming together and continuing the dialogue. It is my great hope that these both groups can collaborate on all sorts of projects. I’d like to see other underserved and underrepresented groups like these begin to flourish, until there's a time when we don’t need Cave Canem and Kundiman. Did I just say that? What a tough thing to wish for.

5 comments:

Catherine said...

I still don't think I quite "get" the US situation - it just doesn't seem to me to be a big deal whether a writer is African American, Asian, Latino/a or whatever. I think your wish - that such groups should no longer be needed - is an excellent one. But we'll always need support groups for poets, writing can be a lonely life otherwise.

susan said...

Catherine,

I think it is difficult to understand why it is a big deal if your experiences are such that you don't ordinarily have to provide a background for others to be able to relate.

These schools are relevant and needed because the U.S. is a patchwork of different cultures. We all don't have the same references, experiences and language.

What themes dominate the work of say middle-class, educated white women and the work of educated black men writers. This is what I think January is talking about when she says the power of affinity.

I recently asked what themes dominate our work or the works we enjoy reading. While I enjoy nature poems, I typically don't write them unless I'm responding to a prompt. And if I want to read about collective struggles, urban issues or about experiences tied specifically to race or ethnicity then I am more likely to read a poem by a person of color and not one by a soccer mom.

Truly embracing and celebrating diversity means acknowledging differences. Race, ethnicity,nationality, age, belief systems and gender and sexual orientation all influence how we write and how we read.

January said...

I couldn't have said it better myself!

susan said...

Hi January,

I read your blog almost daily. Between you and my partner, I think I'm ready to get serious about my own writing.

Keep doing what you do. You inspire me.

susan said...

January,

I honor of your stint with Toastmasters, I've posted my Icebreaker. Please come by.

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