Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Friday, May 27, 2016
The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway.
Hello, Yale students. It’s me, a random internet writer. I have some unfortunate news for you, but first, let me step back and catch everybody up.
Recently, the requirements for the Yale English major have come under fire. To fulfill the major as it currently stands, a student must take either the two-part “major English poets” sequence—which spans Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, and Eliot—or four equivalent courses on the same dead white men. Inspired in part by articles in the Yale Daily News and Down magazine, Elis have crafted a petition exhorting the college to “decolonize” its English curriculum. Their demands: abolish the major English poets cycle and revise the remaining requirements “to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.” “It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices,” the letter concludes. “We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention."
This is great, and I applaud your commitment to inclusivity and diversity (as well as your command of rhythm and anaphora.) Rethinking the major’s prerequisites to reflect a wider array of perspectives, gifts, and experiences is an awesome idea. Also, you’ve pointed elsewhere to some deplorable statistics: Of 98 English faculty members, only seven identify as nonwhite, and none identify as Hispanic or indigenous. Yale urgently needs to address the homogeny of its professorship, both for students’ sake and its own.
Here’s the thing, though. If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you’re going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets. Like, a lot. More than eight. MORE