Friday, February 11, 2011

Claudia Rankine / Open Letter

Dear friends,

As many of you know I responded to Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change” at AWP. I also solicited from Tony a response to my response. Many informal conversations have been taking place online and elsewhere since my presentation of this dialogue. This request is an attempt to move the conversation away from the he said-she said vibe toward a discussion about the creative imagination, creative writing and race.

If you have time in the next month please consider sharing some thoughts on writing about race (1-5 pages).

Here are a few possible jumping off points:

• If you write about race frequently what issues, difficulties, advantages, and disadvantages do you negotiate?

• How do we invent the language of racial identity--that is, not necessarily constructing the "scene of instruction" about race, but create the linguistic material of racial speech/thought?

• If you have never written consciously about race why have you never felt compelled to do so?

• If you don’t consider yourself in any majority how does this contribute to how race enters your work?

• If fear is a component of your reluctance to approach this subject could you examine that in a short essay that would be made public?

• If you don’t intend to write about race but consider yourself a reader of work dealing with race what are your expectations for a poem where race matters?

• Do you believe race can be decontextualized, or in other words, can ideas of race be constructed separate from their history?

• Is there a poem you think is particularly successful at inventing the language of racial identity or at dramatizing the site of race as such? Tell us why.

In short, write what you want. But in the interest of constructing a discussion pertinent to the more important issue of the creative imagination and race, please do not reference Tony or me in your writings. We both served as the catalyst for this discussion but the real work as a community interested in this issue begins with our individual assessments.

If you write back to me by March 11, 2011, one month from today, with “OPEN LETTER” in the subject heading I will post everything on the morning of the 15th of March. Feel free to pass this on to your friends. Please direct your thoughts to

In peace,



At 2/11/2011 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds really wonderful!

adam strauss

At 2/12/2011 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why didn't she use this mode of inquiry with hoagland?

a conversation might have been more useful, less destructive--a cruise around facebook will reveal some pretty petty, even ugly bandwagon responses to her performance.

At 2/13/2011 5:52 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I went looking around facebook, and the only thing I found was C. Dale Young mentioning this same letter. What sorts of things are you seeing?

I think what she wrote was in this mode of inquiry. She's putting her position strongly, but fairly. Or within the bounds of fairness. Some might argue that she ambushed Hoagland, but the poem is several years old, and has been talked about before. None of this came out of the blue. Hoagland knows what he's working with. He should be ready for push-back.

At 2/15/2011 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

She didn't ambush anyone. She checked with Hoagland first, solicited a response, and made sure his response was read publicly at AWP. She's now trying to expand upon the original dialog.

At 2/15/2011 6:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I mentioned that, because a person that I talked to after the event saw it that way. I agree with you, she didn't ambush him.

The argument that she did (from others, not myself as I wasn;t there) stems from the original meeting with students six or so years ago, where, apparently, she sprang the poem on him, asking for his defence of it. That initial ambush feeds into this one, where she had the last six years to think of a response, and then she gave him just two days to reply. The fact that she was going to go forward with the poem and her response regardless of Hoagland's response, can be seen as a sort of blackmail, forcing him to respond.

As I said though, in my mind the event was NOT an ambush, because there's been talk of this poem before. He should have been ready for something like this.


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