Statement on Write magazine editorial

Dear Hal et. al.,

I am writing to express my discomfort, disappointment and displeasure at the “Writer’s Prompt” note, “Winning the Appropriation Prize,” which was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Write magazine.

I am struggling somewhat to find the words to respectfully articulate my reaction upon seeing the column: at the most generous interpretation it is clueless and thoughtless; at worst, it is offensive and insulting to the many writers featured within the page; it undermines any attempts at space-making or celebration of the writers featured within the pages, and it marks Write magazine as a space that is not safe for indigenous and racialized writers.

As a member of the board, I would have strongly objected to this piece had I seen it prior to publication. In fact, I could have: Gaeby did send me a pdf of the issue on May 1; I was unfortunately overscheduled for the past month with a number of back-to-back creative deadlines and major work priorities. I did not read the pdf. I was also unable to join the board meeting last week. I very literally finally paused to raise my head for air this evening; scrolling my Facebook feed in a coffee shop I saw a link to Alicia Elliott’s thread on Twitter (https://twitter.com/WordsandGuitar/status/862044639263633408). Not having reviewed the issue prior to putting my name to the Chair’s Report is a serious lapse in judgment and ethics, and I believe that I cannot in good conscience continue with the board.

I am in agreement with the criticisms circulating on social media. I can’t, should not, and will not speak for any indigenous writer, but what I do attempt to do, in my life and in my work, is to listen to others who do not move through the world with my level of privilege. What I have read, what I have learned, and what I believe is the fact that Canada has a long history of settler-colonialism and of cultural and physical appropriation. I vehemently disagree with the notion that cultural appropriation is not real – it exists and it causes real harm. Further, Canada is “exhaustingly white and middle class” not because white writers are afraid to write stories they don’t “know,” but because white writers don’t get out of the way and make space for the multitude of stories to be told by those who aren’t white and middle class. If I can go further – and I am myself white and middle class – we’re not the centre, and we need to stop behaving as such.

For this issue, I provided the name and contact information of a young writer of my acquaintance, whose work ended up being featured in the issue. I now find myself in the position of having to go back to that person and apologize for having put them into a situation where their work and their very subjectivity has been undermined by the note that introduces the issue.

As a board and as an organization, we need to be mindful of what frames are put on the work of marginalized voices, and we need to ensure that when we are reaching out to marginalized voices that we are building a respectful space for their work.

We need to do better.

Sincerely,
Nikki Reimer

 


Addendum

To clarify, there was a planning meeting for this special issue that I did attend some months back, (some time in the fall), also attended by the guest editor, who is an Indigenous writer. The guest editor and the editor worked together to select the writers and pieces. The advisory board never does that. The purpose of the board, as far as I’ve known, is to weigh in on ideas, offer ideas, and guidance, and suggest topics and writers. We never read or approve any of the pieces before the issue comes out.

There was another regular board meeting last week that I was unable to attend, my first that I couldn’t make in a year and a half of sitting on the board. I don’t know what was discussed at that meeting. It would usually be notes for the issue to follow. It would be very atypical for the board to read and approve every piece in the magazine before it is published. We never see the note from the editor before the magazine comes out.

This is not to be defensive, but to clarify what the process has been. As a youngish writer when I joined the board it did not occur to me to suggest or insist that the advisory board have approval on the content of the magazine prior to publication.

In this instance I am indeed particularly at fault because I took on the position of board chair and had written the yearly chair report for the end of April. The magazine coordinator then reached out to me to let me know that this spring issue needed to be included in my report. Because of timing and deadlines, the issue wasn’t out yet. She sent it to me for my reference, and sent me a suggested wording that encapsulated the names of the writers included in the issue. At the time (May 1) I was under the gun on various deadlines and I accepted the coordinator’s suggested wording. I would have raised the alarm had I read the editorial note then, and it is my error and failure that I did not, but it’s possible and likely that the issue was already off to the printers and  possibly the mail, at that point.

In any case, the failure to review the issue in its entirely prior to filing the report is mine and mine alone.

I have resigned from all of my volunteer and board positions.

15 thoughts on “Statement on Write magazine editorial

  1. Laina Dawes says:

    Some questions for you: how many other people are on the board? Did anyone challenge this article during the editing / proofing process? Are you the only one who is speaking up now? That is what concerns me, that apparently no one else thought that it was an issue until it went live and the blowback began. Oh, Canada.

    • Nikki Reimer says:

      I have added a point of clarification above. It is not part of the duties of the advisory board to review the contents, normally.

  2. Michelle says:

    Thank-you so much for writing this piece. It’s a shame you had to step down though as you are just the kind of writer, thinker and creator mainstream CanLit needs to hear from now. I mean to say, you seem to be part of the solution and not the problem.

  3. Keith says:

    This is such a weird response. It’s almost as though you don’t want to debate the issue because of your dripping postmodernism. You’d rather bail on the issue than have your POV challenged.

    Derrida smiles in his grave.

  4. Bruce Ponder says:

    Ms. Reimer, I was stunned when I read in this morning’s New York Times article about the condemnation of Hal Niedzviecki’s opinion piece regarding previously excluded Indigenous Canadian writers and how to encourage and support them. Mr Niedzviecki’s piece even offered that “white” writers might increase their own fund of knowledge by using their empathic imaginations to write about Indigeous peoples. Your reaction to this writing is set out above. Your essay is illiberal and, I regret, repressive of free expression and thought. Worse, it is patronizing.. It assumes that Indigenous writers in Canada need to have their body of literature protected from cultural appropriation. I am certain that there are such writers who can make their own responses to the Niedzviecki column. Of course they can’t because his piece has been censored. How embarrassing for my peaceful and otherwise more advanced neighbors to the north (yes, I am a US citizen). A rebuttal to Mr. Niedzviecki in the next issue or on the website would have been so much more productive and enlightening.

    • Nikki Reimer says:

      Hello Mr. Ponder, thank you for your thoughts. As an American, you may be unaware of Canada’s long history of taking from and speaking for Indigenous peoples. Searching out the hashtags #CanLit or #AppropriationPrize on Twitter might enlighten you as to how many of the Indigenous writers in Canada today feel about the access they have to publishing, and whether or not there is a problem with appropriation of their work. You may also be unaware of the fact that a storm erupted in late December over a widely-celebrated and promoted First Nations writer whose various claims of affiliation were revealed to be not exactly truthful. There are still many raw feelings around this.

      This particular issue of Write magazine was meant to be an issue devoted to an under-promoted and under-respected segment of the population of writers. It was meant to give them a chance to express their stories, thoughts, feelings and identities in their own words within the pages of the Union members’ publication. I do not think that Mr. Niedviecki does not have a right for his opinion to be published, nor do I believe that cultural appropriation cannot be discussed; nor have I called for either of these things, however, this particular issue of Write magazine was absolutely the wrong place and time for what he wrote. It’s not about repression of thought, it’s about sensitivity and respect for a group of people that have not had access to traditional Canadian publishing (or health care, or safe affordable housing, etc. etc.) In fact, since the media coverage yesterday of Mr. Niedzvieki’s resignation, a group of powerful (white) media players began crowdfunding to create an actual Appropriation Prize. Which they are free to do, disrespectful though it is. And the fact that this was the immediate response actually proves my point that Indigenous writers in Canada do not have access to respect for and promotion of their work.

      Mr. Niedzviecki has not been censored: His piece appears in the print issue of the magazine that was delivered to every union member’s mailbox this week, as well has appearing in the digital version that each member has access to download. Every single member of The Writer’s Union of Canada has the chance to read it.

      Respectfully,
      Nikki Reimer

  5. Bonnie Black says:

    Well said, Nikki. It is my fervent hope that your resignation from this Board does not mean we lose your reasoned, articulate, and passionate voice in the publishing world. We (all – Indigenous and privileged whites) need you.

  6. Antonio says:

    Ms. Reimer,

    Thank you for taking the time to read through the comments and reply to the specific concerns being raised. Thank you as well for providing context regarding the contents of the Spring issue, and how it was “absolutely the wrong place and time” for the piece written by Mr. Niedzviecki.

    I would like to kindly request that Mr. Niedzviecki’s piece, or perhaps even the entire Spring issue of the magazine, be made freely available online, not just for members of the Writer’s Union of Canada, but to the general public.

    It is clear that, for better or for worse, Mr. Niedzviecki’s work opened a discussion about important issues, not only in Canadian publishing but in Canadian history. The story has been covered by both Canadian and foreign media. I believe that in order to have an informed opinion about this particular story, it is important that as readers we have access to the primary source: let the work of Mr. Niedzviecki’s stand for itself so that we can analyze and critically respond to it. Then, let us read the rest of the articles in the corresponding issue, and arrive at our own conclusions with a more solid frame of reference , rather than have our opinions mediated by isolated quotes published by third parties.

    I understand that this magazine is normally only circulated among Union members, but I think that given the circumstances, the rest of us should have an equal opportunity to read the texts.

    Regards,

    Antonio

  7. Gordon McGregor says:

    If they feel unsafe because of this, they need serious therapy until they can at least come close to. Being adults

    You are incredibly insulting to these people you’re demeaning, suggesting they’re so mentally frail they cannot handle this, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

    • Jeff Blackman says:

      An immaculate catch-22: if anyone is offended, they are to be disregarded. If anyone is not, they are evidence of Ms. Reimer’s paternalism. Congrats. You have demonstrated how easy it is to be clever and cruel, and difficult to be compassionate. Why is it in the debates regarding sensitivity so often we feel being more insensitive is remedy? Before you call me this and I call ypu that, what are our aims? Mine here is to remind someone they should not be ashamed. Is yours only the contrary, sir?

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