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Writers’ Union of Canada @#$storm

Beautiful days – colder than usual but sunny, green shoots and flowers everywhere. Spring is here, it’s just being shy.

Okay, I just KNOW you want me to wade into controversy. Perhaps you’ve been hiding under the bed and have not heard about the hurricane at the Writers’ Union of Canada, which was on the front page of the Star today. Except for Alice’s Nobel Prize, no one has ever paid so much attention to writers in this country. Unfortunately, it takes a tempest in a teapot to make people realize that yes, there are writers here, lots of them, to the point that they have a UNION. Which has a house mag called Write, which just put out an attractive issue featuring the work of indigenous writers. And which made the huge mistake of printing an opinion piece by the editor.

The editor, Hal Hiedzviecki, wrote a truly ill-advised piece stating his personal belief that there is no such thing as cultural appropriation, that writers should be free to write about whatever they want. “Relentlessly explore the lives of people who aren’t like you…” he wrote. So far so good; I completely agree. “Cultural appropriation” is a huge flashpoint, stating that non-indigenous people, for example, should not create indigenous characters or imagine the indigenous experience. To my mind, if you keep going that way, Tolstoy the male should not write the voice of Anna Karenina, and Sherman Alexie, an indigenous writer, should not write about white people. However, the concern, I gather, is largely that marginalized people should not be ripped off by being represented by artists from the dominant culture who might in any way profit from their marginalization.

But Niedzviecki, a hard-working writer and socially conscious man, then moved into murkier, more dangerous territory, suggesting an “appropriation prize” and writing with a touch of condescension about the experience of indigenous writers. Clumsy and poorly thought out, but from someone obviously well-meaning who, let us not forget, created this issue of the magazine with its 100% indigenous content. However, the shitstorm was instantaneous, with not only indigenous writers, but many more-sensitive-than-thou writers jumping in about how mortally offended and hurt they were. A white colleague of mine wrote on FB that she hoped her indigenous colleagues would please forgive her and how could she help make the Writers Union a safe, unthreatening place for them once more? Another, My hope coming out of this is that I, and others in the settler culture, can begin to more deeply understand how manipulated we are by our own privilege and internal programming and do the necessary work we must do to step more meaningfully closer to reconciliation. And another wrote that we should feel for marginalized writers timidly approaching “the citadel” of literature and being brutally turned away by the likes of Hal and his editorial.

Oh sheesh. The citadel. If she thinks I’m in a citadel of literature because I’m white and middle-class, let me tell you, I’d like to find out where it is so I can take up residence. We are all doing our best out here in the wilderness, trying to write our truth. Anyway, Hal resigned or was fired and the magazine printed an abject apology.

Of course immediately, heart pumping, I jumped in, writing a letter to the Union and then posting it on FB:
I cannot tell you how strongly I object to the firing or forced resignation of Hal Niedzviecki for writing a thoughtful if controversial opinion piece. Are we children, that we can’t evaluate different opinions than our own? In fact, this hoo-ha is exactly what he’s writing about – the politics of grievance. Our feelings must not be hurt. 

I am an adult, able to figure out what I agree with and what I don’t, and I despise a culture that denies me that right. Have you ever watched Bill Maher? This is what he goes on about, the absurd extremes of namby-pamby’ism on the left, one of the reasons Trump is President. 
I support Mr. Niedzviecki and the magazine 100%. Please bring him back. Please forward this to him. Please let’s grow up together.

I then wrote to apologize for the intensity of my tone, that I was carried away, that I don’t despise anything but Trump but I do dislike opinion being silenced. Instead of firing the editor, shouldn’t someone write a rebuttal? Aren’t we writers? I asked. Isn’t this what we do? I received a reply online from another colleague, that it’s all very well for a privileged person like me to react this way, but that we need to be more respectful and inclusive, not less. 

With which I completely agree, though not, I guess, in the same way.

He wrote, Let’s talk about how we can release under-represented voices, not how white folks can appropriate them. But that’s not what Hal was proposing.
And at that, I decided to let it go. There are two vital issues here: one, silencing opinion – not vile racist or sexist or fascist opinion, just controversial and contrarian – when we dislike or disagree with it. And two, “cultural appropriation”, being told by the cultural police, the office of political correctness, what we can or cannot write about. But getting involved is asking for nothing but trouble; just writing this blog post may be a bad idea. The level of hysteria is frightening. The haters are out in force, the twitter hyenas, and who am I but a dinosaur, a privileged old-fashioned cisgender white woman safely ensconced in the citadel. Where, incidentally, yet another essay of mine was just turned down by a literary magazine for not being literary enough.

Poor Writers’ Union in a hornet’s nest. Poor Mr. Niedzviecki. Very unwise but utterly undeserving, IMHO, of what is raining down up them. 

Otherwise, all is well. And for those of you who’ve asked, Bruce is better. Thank you. Over and out.



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I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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