Letter to Michael Silverblatt
1900 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Dear Mr. Silverblatt:
I was gratified
to read in the article "Exploring Typecast Writers"
by Scott Martelle (Los Angeles Times, Calendar, pp. E-8-9)
that the topic of your series of radio interviews reflects
arguments that I have been making for many years about
the problems of minority-identified art and a resultant
"new closet." Since I am not familiar with your
interviews, that impression is based solely on Mr. Martelle's
I began exploring
the topic several years ago as keynote speaker at literary
conferences and as guest lecturer at Duke, UCLA, Yale,
USC, among other universities and colleges. At Harvard
in 1997, I titled my lecture "The Outlaw Sensibility.
a collection of my essays, Beneath the Skin (Carroll &
Graf, 2004), was published and contains a further developed
essay on the topic; it is titled "The Outlaw Sensibility:
Liberated Ghettos, Noble Stereotypes, and A Few More Promiscuous
Observations." (That book was sent to you and Mr.
Martelle by my publishers.)
parallels between my views and your approach, I quote
from that essay, pp. 160-161:
is counterattack by the `mainstream' to consider. One
of its main tactics to effect that countering is through
the creation of `liberated ghettos'. When book-chains
assign labeled sections to `Chicano literature,' `Gay
Literature,' `Women's Studies,' they segregate. So do
`mainstream' publishers who aim minority books only at
minorities and who promote such works, if at all, with
of minority writers doggedly appear in The New York Times
Book Review, Time, Newsweek.... [T]hese purport to name
the `best' Hispanic writers, the best `women writers,'
the best `gay' writers--often proclaiming one as `the
best,' suggesting that the range of such literature is
so narrow, its artistry so limited, that such an absurdity
such meager tokens of recognition as `success' is to accept
and contribute to segregation. There is a vast difference
between proudly proclaiming one's identity by ethnicity,
gender, color, sexual orientation, and accepting the use
of labels to separate one into a new, if somewhat relatively
spacious, closet, where certain artists see and are seen,
hear and are heard, only by each other. This is literature;
this is minority literature.
[R]estrictive tagging clings to the names of minority
writers.... `Political correctness' increasingly threatens
the individual voice. The demand is often made on ...
the writer, to avoid aspects considered unflattering to
one's own group...."
and Their Craft (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall,
1990, Nicholas Delbanco and Laurence Goldstein, editors),
identified, [minority literature] is more easily shoved
into another closet. [D]ubbed as a new genre... (and sentenced
in bookstores to a corner labeled `alternative lifestyles'),
it will be reviewed obscurely if at all... Prejudged by
narrowing labels, it will not be considered by those whose
views determine `importance.' It will not be allowed into
the flow of literature...."
is from my lectures at Harvard and UCLA:
but insidious assault on minority voices is the recurring
insistence that the artist be a `role model.' The artist
as role model! What a reckless retroactive judgement on
the great individualistic artists. What a shackling of
artistic exploration. I suggest that the demand for "role-modeling"
is a disguised insidious call for conformity, with its
accompanying exhortation that `stereotypes' be banished."
As a gay Mexican-American
who continues to shun restrictive labels, I am glad that
you are addressing a subject I have long explored and
feel deeply about.
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Original material by John Rechy appears
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