About a month ago I joined a queer women of color writing group at the Audre Lourde Project in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The group is called Tongues Afire and there are women of every race and color from a few Middle Eastern girls, to Pacific Islanders, and black girls alike. I should refrain from using the term “girls” here because they aren’t girls in that cutesy dumb way that the term “girl” can often be mis-interpreted. Just to clarify, when I use the word “girl” I mean it in a young, fresh, pretty way-not to say that the women of Tongues aren’t young and fresh and pretty. They are. I’m getting side tracked from the point. The point is that after our free write and before we work shopped our instructor had us write down as many queer writers of color that we could. For some reason I heard her say queer women of color writers and then after we started listing names I heard male names in the mix.
Thing is, without adding the men I could only come up with 3-Audre Lourde (which was pretty lame, I will admit) Alice Walker and Stacy Ann Chin. That’s all I could come up with. I like to use the excuse that I don’t know that many queer writers of color or otherwise because I’m only 1 year out of the closet. (whoo-hoo!)
I decided earlier in the year that I was going to read “The Classics” There are several books and stories that I’ve read through my academic years but still, so many that were not assigned reading and therefore I never took the time to read. The Cather in the Rye and the Bell Jar are just two that I picked up and decided to read. I’ll never finish Pride and Prejudice because I loathe it but I’m currently reading Wuthering Heights and am surprised to say that I quite like it. When one thinks of the classics, though, very rarely to authors of color come up-straight or gay. When I thought about it last night after we were told to think of as many queer writers of color that we could-and as name after name after name of author was read aloud and my right hand started cramping to jot them all down it occurred to me that as an adult female of color I’ve been jibed.
It wasn’t until I enrolled in an African American Literature class at the University of Toledo in my third year of college that I even heard of DeBois or Hurston or Mc Bride. Sure you read a few Frederick Douglas essays or speeches by MLK during Black History Month but there are so many authors out there, reputable authors of various ethnic back grounds that you never hear of. And now, as a 30-year-old trying to “catch up” on those classics that everyone is supposed to have read there isn’t an author of color among them. What does that say about me as not only a writer but a writer of color that the classic works of literature that I’m seeking out to consider myself more well-read are the writings of white people.
I will say that my emphasis since Catcher in the Rye (which I hated) has been on female writers. When I’m done with Emily I will pick up the other Bronte sister. I’ve never read Jane Eyre. Still, it’s disconcerting what we teach our children and what we’ve been taught to be “worth while” pieces of literature. When I’ve finally published my book and grow to be an old woman and eventually die I’d like to think that a few decades after my death some brave literature professor will assign my books as required reading. It will be nice when that happens that my grand children will continue to get a little bit more dough from their granny’s little book she wrote from her computer back in 2009.
Is it the time that’s passed that makes works from Hemingway or Fitzgerald such poignant works of fiction-or is it that men, white men at that have told us so?