WOC and The Great American Novel

Today I was browsing news sources when I came across this article on the main page of Salon.com:

Why can’t a woman write the Great American Novel? This is a book review by Laura Miller. Interestingly, my bf had shown me an article in The Economist about it too. The book is a book by Elaine Showalter which is “the first comprehensive history of American women writers from 1650 to 2000.”

It’s a great topic. It seeks to question why women are rarely respected authors, why men outnumber them 2:1 on NYT Book Reviews, why they aren’t writing “the great American novel.” Its basically a modern A Room Of One’s Own–a book I love. To be sure, there are barriers that women find difficult to break through in writing. The concept of a room of one’s own persists today, where men are granted this privilege, something that women have to fight for. Then there’s the idea that housework is a woman’s domain– which leaves no time for writing, and has for centuries .  The book seems to interestingly compare women’s writing in the UK to women’s writing in America– concluding that back in the day, the class system in the UK provided greater opportunities for wealthy women to have time to write.

The review of the book itself drifts off while Laura Miller begins considering the subject on her own. When I reach the end of the first page, I see this:

easierwocnovel2

They had to go there, didn’t they. At this point I am not optimistic for the second half of the article. When I reach the part about WOC it turns out to be just a paragraph:

The great exception to this rule [of being left out of the mainstream-my edit] is women of color — most notably Toni Morrison, but Prose also singles out the Native-American novelist Leslie Marmon Silko — whose work became mainstream in the 1980s. Apart from their own considerable talent, these writers have been politically liberated to claim a big swath of territory that white male novelists could not make a feasible bid for anyway; Don DeLillo knows better than to attempt the Great American Novel about slavery.

Okay. That’s all very well, but just because WOC have different perspectives that whites cannot know, doesn’t mean they somehow have it easier as far as writing novels and being recognized. Morrison and Walker and such are standalones in a great dearth of mainstream-media popularly recognized female authors of color. Surely Beloved and The Bluest Eye come from a place that white people cannot write from, (and are brilliant books), but there’s also the simple fact that for a lot of people, these books DO represent niches. We read Morrison in the “cultural” or “African-American Lit” sections of our high school lesson plans. And are we ignoring all the more numerous black males who write on race issues? (Hughes, Du Bois, Ellison,  Mosley, Jones etc), or white men like Faulkner who write on them as well?

The framing of the issue in a tagline that says: “Is it easier for women of color..?” is always problematic with me. I believe that for all women, recognition in writing, film directing, music, etc is much harder to achieve and sometimes comes at a higher price, than for their male counterparts. Let us not dismiss the problems of WOC simply because we see women like Morrison succeed. Just as this article started pointing out, books about “female subjects” or things largely considered female domains (domestic novels, etc)  just don’t have the legitimacy in mainstream America. The same then goes for writing about  things largely considered niche/ for the African-American communities, not for the mainstream. How can people fail to realize that?

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Explore posts in the same categories: POC, silence, Uncategorized

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