RIF's Multicultural Book Collection Launch - Part 3 of 5


Uploaded by rifweb on 13.02.2012

Transcript:
bjbjq Moderator: So Christopher, would you like to expand upon the whole issue of the
Western Canon? Christopher Myers: I did not bring a flute. [Laughter] Joseph: You have
done other things in the past, Chris. Christopher Myers: Recently, my pop, they named him the
Ambassador of, Tutor of like Literature, Youth. We were taking it very seriously. So he calls
me up and he says alright, so what do we need to do to fix literacy in America? That is
a problem. And then he left me a message one time and then called me back in about three
hours and was like have you done it yet? And I am like I am working on it, I am working
on it. Strangely and I think that this is one of the keys to this conversation since
he has been doing this, he has been doing a lot of interviews, he has also gotten a
lot of pushback. A lot of pushback. And I think that part of what we are thinking about
here, what we are discussing, is the idea of pushback. Because when we discuss the idea
of multicultural literature, who here I mean, we are probably fairly in a room of like-minded
individuals and everyone nods and everyone, we all self congratulate. It is like we are
very multicultural, we do love literature, don t we? [Laughter] And we do that. And it
is good to be in a room of like-minded individuals. But I think that we need to start to really
address the fact that there is pushback. We need to address the fact that there is this
undercurrent. And we need to understand what this undercurrent is from their point of view.
Joseph talked about the idea of listening to both sides of the story. We need to ask
what is this pushback. So we have reached this new age of euphemism and this age of
speaking, we speak underneath our speech, right? So we hear phrases like the welfare
president. And when you hear women being described, you hear them being described by this outfit
or that outfit and you realize there is a euphemism here. There is an understanding
that what we are doing is in the example of speaking of women, especially women politicians
we are putting these women politicians in their place with that sort of language. And
you see this so often and it is quite disturbing. As authors, we all have opportunity as educators
and people who care about reading and literature to change this national conversation. To say
I really do care about America, for example. This is why I want to understand our literary
history, why I want to understand us as a literary people. We are one of the only countries
in the world that is founded in declaration. We are founded on words those words part of
who were borrowed from the Iroquois confederacy. But that is important to understand, that
our words do not come from nowhere. We share as a heritage both John Locke and the Iroquois
confederacy. We share as a heritage the philosophers of Europe, the philosophers that came afterward,
philosophers who were steeped in the Arab world. When we look at, for example, the libraries
of a lot of our founding fathers, they h ad work in Arabic because that was a classical
language. We understand that a lot of our Greek philosophers are folks that had other
names but then become Latinized [indiscernible] for example, these sorts of folks. So that
is the first thing this idea of understanding ourselves as a literary people and as literary
people then, the other part of the pushback is people say oftentimes that we should be
reading classics. I am a huge fan of classics. I feel like so often, we are put on this dichotomy,
this [indiscernible] dualism, right? Where it is classics on one side and I do not know
what they imagine is on the other side. Probably several songs by Lil Wayne [Laughter] That
is what was on the other side of the classics. As if it was a choice between Ovid and [indiscernible].
But as somebody who studied the classics, spent three years studying Latin, several
other years studying other things, I am fascinated with the idea of the classics themselves of
multicultural literature. To understand that Aeneas and Dido got together and Dido was
from Carthage, and Carthage was in North Africa. And to understand ourselves in this sort of
Like we can take in this argument, this euphemistic argument, this double speak argument about
classics and American-ness. And because we are armed with the tools of literacy, because
we are readers, because we really do know our stuff, we can say I very much believe
in classics. I very much believe in Ovid. I very much believe in understanding these
things. And I also believe in telling stories. I understand that Ovid, for example, is the
center of so much of our storytelling tradition in the world. You know, you read Metamorphosis,
that is pretty much every story you have ever heard ever. I love Metamorphosis. It is like
the biggest sci-fi epic ever. People turned it into Birds, etc., etc. And at the same
time, you can see the threads of those stories in earlier stories and in our later stories.
We understand that Romeo and Juliet comes from Ovid, but we also understand that the
problems of those stories are universal. The problems of those stories are echoed in other
stories that we have as our job as literary people to bring out. So I think that this
idea of, this dichotomy between classics and [indiscernible] and Lil Wayne, I think that
we need to fight against that and we need to fight against that as artists and as educators
to say okay, let s look at our new classics. Let us look at them in relationship to the
old classics. Let us see ourselves on a continuum of literary production. And let us not give
up on our legacies, our multiple legacies of literature in this country. That is the
gift we have. We have tradition upon tradition that we build upon. It is like our culture,
our music. We borrow from everywhere and we make new things. Now it is up to us whether
or not we choose to give that up, that essential American-ness. If we do, then we lose. And
we find ourselves in the strange position of being a country founded on literacy, founded
on borrowing, founded on radical collage in many ways, and denying that same history.
That is a very, very, very awkward place for us to be. And I think that in summation of
this idea of where our radical collage has left us, I think that it is time to take this
conversation to another level, which Because as Violet mentioned, this is a conversation
that has been happening since well before I was born. My dad is old now. He is not here,
so I can say that. And we were talking and 1969, he published his first book for children.
And we are still talking the same terms about inclusivity, about changing our curriculums
to have special units and chapters. And what I am suggesting that we need to change our
conversation from this inclusivity model, which is about taking a drop and putting it
in, to a newer model of understanding that our roots are multicultural and the fruit
of our tree is necessarily multicultural. And I think that is an important kind of thing
to notice is that it is not about inclusivity anymore; it is just about being honest, about
telling good stories, telling open stories. If we can get to that, we can get rid of all
of this hopefully get rid of some of this pushback. Or at least take the pushback that
is done in euphemistic terms and let people show their face in whatever way they choose
to. If we can get rid of this To understand that we come from, the roots of the tree are
as multicultural as the fruit. And I think that is really what the goal is, is to change
this conversation, the conversations about what is our national character. And I think
that it also has repercussions for every other section of literature. I am also equally disturbed
recently by the depiction of young women in our literature, and that is a problem. Every
book about a young woman is about a love triangle, right? Joseph: Usually, the vampire. [Laughter]
Christopher Myers: Yes, right. But this thing is, there are the popular ones and it is always
about As if that is what we care about our young women thinking about themselves. All
they care about but now some boy likes them? But this is the problem with this model of
inclusivity that says we will put a woman in here, we will put a Chinese person in there.
This is a problem. We do not tell the rich, intertwining story that we need to be working
on to understand that all it is is multicultural as Pop's latest book, Larry Epps latest book,
whoever, Ian Mosley, whoever you want to talk about, and to understand that that is the
standard that we hold ourselves to. [Applause] Moderator: So the finished press, I think
was established in 1970 and women s studies, I think the first women s studies department
was established in 1973. So I was in college in the 1970s. And I remember hearing discussions
about how stupid it was to have women s studies and that why would anybody want to read about
the struggles of females? And I am sitting there thinking so you want to read about a
grown man chasing a whale, which as any idiot can tell you, is not going to end well, and
that is more important. Most of us have not chased whales maybe metaphorically but literally
chasing a whole? It is dumb. And everybody has got a situation of being in a family.
Whether you like them or not, you have got one. And you know, it is kind of pigeonholing,
well, you are not picking up the important things, that is really dumb. So what we are
going to do, we have another question for Loretta and then I want to ask the panel to
come in on each other s discussion. Loretta, over the last thirty years, so many changes
have taken place in the world of publishing. And we have some of our publishing friends
here with us today. And also, the experience of childhood has changed so much in the last
thirty years. Would you talk about that a little bit? Loretta Lopez: Yes, I will talk
about that a little bit. It is interesting. It is interesting to me to hear the other
two speakers speak and the questions that they brought up I want to touch on lightly.
I was born and raised on the border of the United States of Mexico, but my ancestry goes
back in New Mexico for three or four hundred years. I mean, we can look back at the Spanish
and the Native American people who were there before it was even the United States. You
know, I can trace my family back. But what is really interesting to me is when I was
growing up, my mother was educated. She was born in Arizona, but educated in Mexico, and
my father was educated in California. But neither one of them got past the sixth grade.
And so when I was growing up, literature was not something that was held up very high for
my family. They were kind of just trying to make ends meet. And so for me, it was kind
of interesting because the classics were multicultural literature to me. They were a window into
a completely different world and they were something that expanded my mind and the way
I perceived the world. It was something that I was able to bring back to my family. But
what is also interesting is that recently, I remembered talking to a publisher about
a book I had written that I was sort of pitching to them. And it was just about how boring
some of us, about how one summer when I was a kid growing up in the sixties, it just seemed
to last endlessly. It was hot, there was nothing to do, there was no TV to watch, and it was
all soap operas. And so I had to find things to do myself, and I turned to books. And what
is interesting to me today is because of technology, the way technology has changed, I see my nephews,
my sister s grandkids, my nephew s kids and my family s kids and my friends kids and I
see that they have such a different experience of childhood. They are not bored all day.
Their days are scheduled. From school, they go home, they do this. They seem to have everything
allotted. They do not have endless amounts of time in which to discover books. And also,
social media, the fact that given the opportunity, they are not bored. They have got TV, there
is always something to watch on cable and there are computer games that they can play
with all day. You know, I think childhood has changed a lot. But I also think that,
I guess as educators and just parents and as storytellers, it is important to focus
on the fact that we are still human beings. We are going to experience stuff. And getting
back to the classics and having seen them as a window into another world and the fact
that my parents did not value literature at all, the pivotal moment for me as a very small
child was that my mother buying groceries. I must have been in first or second grade.
And there was a Golden Book. And that was something that she would like oh, okay, well,
it costs a few cents in the grocery store. Yes, you can pick that up. And when I was
growing up, even though she had been born in Arizona, she did not know how to speak
English very well and so reading was challenging for her. And we looked at this Golden Book.
It was a story about how to bake an apple in the fireplace. And this little boy and
his grandfather baked this apple in the fireplace. And my mother said oh, I used to do that when
I was kid. And so she said we can do that together. You know, looking at this book together,
somehow I was able to bring literature to my mother who for her, literature and books
were very alien. So I think that all these questions tie together. The fact is that multicultural
literature is not a distraction. And even if people say it is, even if they have banned
the books and take them out of the classrooms, the world is so big. Technology has made this
whole planet such a small world. And you can say that it is a distraction but the fact
of the matter is we all come from different places. We all come from Latin America or
from Asia or from African ancestry. And the human spirit is so resilient that we are all
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