2.01.2010

Getting Books Signed



Author Maaza Mengiste was just in Denver on the last leg of her national book tour and I managed to sneak into part of the $50, four author, sold-out all day event at The Tattered Cover bookstore. Between this successful tour and the review in the New York Times Book Review Maaza is well on her way. I am reading the book now. Read it and we'll discuss (as suggested in the early post about her book: Beneath the Lion's Gaze).

She even signed it To DJ Halfbreed, In Solidarity. which was rad, since she remembered the DJ name on her own. I am not really into getting books, or much anything signed, but every once and awhile I make an exception. This will go up there with the Common and Talib Kweli vinyl singles that are signed to DJ Halfbreed too. Guess I have a collection going.

I'm super happy for Maaza--and for everyone getting access to important new literature such as hers. Sometimes the books at the store, at the library seem so limited in their scope and possibility, limited in their worldview--Maaza is an exceptional writer (I've read enough already to know this), an important contributor to this world of letters, of words that matter.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with a student in my Mexican American Literature class last week:

This student was asking me about choosing an English major. From what I gathered, he thinks about declaring an English major but he is frustrated with the white, male dominance of the field. He mentioned that he is in a class now-- Romanticism Lit or something along those lines--and how he is the only one who has a problem with some of the points of view in the readings. He didn't get into specifics, but said he tries to point out some of the racist/classist/gender problems in the Lit, but he also hates being "that guy". He essentially said that he is the only Latino in his class, the only person of color, and it can be hard--that he doesn't know how much he wants to continue choosing those battles. I related, told him I very often have been "that girl" in class, have even more often been silent, holding back tears, appalled at the ignorance of classmates and teachers to the implications of some of the literature. Ignorance which feel like acceptance.

He asked me if it got better as one got older, got further into studying literature. I tried to explain how, in my experience at least, it does and doesn't get better.
I told him how as an undergrad I went out of my way to enroll in World Literature, Asian American Women's Literature, Latino Literature, African American and Native American Literature classes. How, when my Native American lit professor went around the room asking students why they were in the class I was the only student who said I felt like I needed to balance out the American Lit (I and II) and British Lit (I and II) requirement for the English major (I've always been this earnest).
That that helped.

I told him about my friend who is in a top-tier English PhD program. My friend who is black and gay, who tells me he has lost his love for literature because he realizes how the PhD is just as a university official stated: The Continuation of a Tradition.
I tell my student how I don't know what to say to my friend.

And at least some of us understand what that tradition is-- and how we have and have not been represented within it.

Still, I encouraged the English major. I told him how most days I understand the importance of knowing the foundations of the tradition. (Though I also respect why many people insist that the master's tools will never be used to tear down the master's house.) How there are some beautiful parts of the tradition--some great, sappy, radical contributions, especially if appreciated within the context that they were written.

I told him about the Terrance Hayes poem, "Snow for Wallace Stevens" that I love so dearly that I had this part tattooed on my ribs (the following line spacing is the spacing on me, not in the poem):

I too
having lost faith
in language
have placed my faith
in language
thus,
I have a capacity for
love without forgiveness


I explained how this part of the poem especially helps me frame my own work in the field and encouraged him to look it up. He wrote it down.

All of this in the break we took halfway into the 3 hour class...



p.s. I am going to post more on the novel asap. Teaching has me a bit behind in my personal reading.

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