The editor of the Writers’ Union of Canada’s magazine has resigned after complaints over an article he wrote in which he said he doesn’t believe in cultural appropriation.
Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write — a publication for the union’s members — published an opinion piece in the spring 2017 issue titled “Writer’s Prompt.” In the article, in an issue dedicated to indigenous writing, Niedzviecki wrote: “In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.
“I’d go so far as to say there should even be an award for doing so — the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.”
He went on to argue that Canadian literature remains “exhaustingly white and middle class” because writers are discouraged from writing about people and places they don’t know.
A sociological term, cultural appropriation is used to describe the adoption of elements or practices of one cultural group by members of another.
Now writers and editors affiliated with the magazine are falling all over themselves to denounce it and to distance itself from this cultural atrocity. Read the whole thing, and just shake your head at the self-loathing, the artistic gutlessness, and the all-consuming neurosis of these Canadian writers, editors, and academics.
These white people are so timid that they will only allow themselves to produce art that offends exactly no one within their extremely narrow circle. And the minorities who have appointed themselves as Grand Inquisitors tasked with policing the bounds of discourse within fictional works with all the self-righteous militancy of the Saudi vice squad are also cowards, and they’re destroying art for the sake of cultural politics.
Remember when people created, published, and taught literature because they loved words and stories, and believed that literature, like all great art, taught us something about the human condition? Could it be that having lost a connection with the vital sources of creativity, the academic writing-industrial complex has nothing left to do but to police pathetic left-wing orthodoxies?
Imagine that: writers demanding that an editor resign over his calling on writers to write outside their own bubbles. Here’s Niedzviecki’s resignation statement, in which he apologizes to the Maoist rabble he ought to have been insulting on the way out the door:
May 10, 2017
Statement regarding my article in the Spring Issue of Write Magazine:
This is a public statement regarding the article that I wrote in the Spring Issue of Write Magazine, “Winning the Appropriation Prize.” As with all articles in the magazine, the opinions of the author are not the opinions of the Writers’ Union of Canada.
The article “Winning the Appropriation Prize” was meant as a short reflection about voice and authenticity after having the privilege of conceiving of, and editing, an issue devoted to Indigenous writing and publishing. My evocation of cultural appropriation was meant solely in the context of writers and writing, given that the context was a discussion in Write Magazine. My aim was to make two points: First, that writers should never be dissuaded from writing in a variety of viewpoints and voices, as, when it is done in the right way, this deepens the cultural conversation and gives rise to greater understanding and cultural reciprocity. Second, that many of the Indigenous writers published in the Spring issue of Write wrote about having suffered from the effects and aftereffects of the Residential school system and other systemic attempts to suppress their culture. They wrote poignantly about reclaiming authenticity and voice.
The short article then goes on to say that “Indigenous writing is the most vital and compelling force in writing and publishing in Canada today.” I believe this is true, and that’s the main point I was trying to make with the piece: That Indigenous writers are courageously developing their writerly voices and writing about their experiences, and that this is resulting in salient and meaningful works.
I regret that my words failed to acknowledge the profound and lasting adverse impact of cultural appropriation on Indigenous peoples. I began the piece glibly, which resulted in some readers misunderstanding my intentions. I understand and accept their point of view. I have the utmost respect for the Indigenous writers who contributed to this issue, and did not in anyway mean to diminish or demean their work, the importance of their authentic experiences and voices, or their struggle against racism and colonialism in Canadian society. To anyone who found the piece an inappropriate introduction to the work in the issue, I sincerely apologize. I have spent the last twenty years fostering and providing a forum to writing from the margins. Anyone who is familiar with my work knows that I would never intentionally demean or diminish the experience of other people. I appreciate individuals taking time to share their thoughts and respond to the piece, since I do value the opportunity to learn from this experience and from the thoughtful feedback of others.
I have resigned as editor of Write Magazine. In my time as editor I’ve worked with many great writers, helped to foster many voices, and am particularly proud of my collaborative work developing an ongoing column written by writers exiled from their home countries and now living in Canada.
Sincerely, Hal Niedzviecki
What should young people who love fiction and feel a calling to teach it, and maybe even write it, do? Could you in good conscience advise them to go to college to study literature or creative writing? People who have a true calling to create are going to create no matter what obstacles get put in their way. But I cannot imagine having to subject myself to this kind of nonsense for the sake of learning my craft. I would worry that immersing myself too thoroughly in that world would cause me to go native, and to strive to turn myself into a court poet of the literary elite. And I would worry that I would inadvertently step on a land mine, as poor Niedzviecki has done, and blow up my career by offending a gaggle of commissars.