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.
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.