The spring quarter here at UCR started today, and I need to write this post before I forget.
I was invited by the University of Victoria to present my poems on the aswang and the St. Louis World’s Fair a few weeks back. It was great to meet with other graduate students and Ph. D candidates from all over Canada and the U.S. and hear creative and academic work on fantastic literature.
For me, the keynote speaker, Hiromi Goto (Japanese Canadian fiction writer) was the highlight of the conference. She presented on race and representation in Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea. I haven’t read Le Guin but Goto did an excellent job of contextualizing her work. She spoke about misreading the protagonist Ged (a young wizard) as white though he is described by Le Guin as a dark skinned man. Goto reflected on her own childhood of reading stories about mostly white characters by mostly white authors. She talked about a moment of recognition when she read A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden when Sai Fong, Chinatown shop owner, appears in the text. No matter how essentialized Sai Fong’s character was, she was still struck by the inclusion of an Asian person in the story, since it was so rare to see.
Goto emphasized that the sense of place and body can’t be neutralized in reading, that the reader is reading from a context not a state of neutrality. When Goto asked, “Is race an issue an when race is not an issue?” I couldn’t help look around the room, a habit formed from attending a nearly all-white college on the East Coast. I had an idea that I was probably one of the only students of color but no idea until that moment that I was the ONLY one. I couldn’t help but think about the First Nations and immigrant poets and writers who weren’t at the conference but deeply rooted in the landscape of Victoria.
As I mentioned earlier, I read poems from my project on the aswang and the World’s Fair, which are very much poems about the body politic. It was strange to read these poems to a practically all-white audience.
Barbara Jane Reyes is talking about the role of pinayism and feminism in the poetry world over at her blog, and I’m thinking, too, about the role of the woman writer of color as critic, workshop presenter and scholar.
Hmm. I’m still processing all of this. I’ll write more later.