Saturday, November 2, 2013

Excluding to fight exclusion?

My husband recently returned from a lengthy trip to Europe, his first trip there, and I am now the proud owner of this (right). He's been back a week, and he has great stories because his work there took him all over, from the UK to the Netherlands to Germany then Switzerland then France. Whew!

One thing his less detailed stories involved eating at a conveyor belt-served sushi place and listening to the radio. Each of these elements was interesting in their own right--the time stamps on sushi in place of time spent to order (I'd rather wait, but I get the appeal) to the nature of the radio mention.

"Oh, you'll find this interesting though," my couldn't-be-further-removed-from-the-lit-scene husband said. He went on to say that there was some announcement on the radio that a literary contest, which historically excluded US writers from entering, was now allowing American work to enter. I thought he was speaking of a short story competition, something with, say, a £50 prize. Not so much.

After conversing further, I realized he was talking about this announcement about the Man Booker prize. This announcement reached the news in September, but the fact that this prestigious competition is now planning to allow US writers has become, apparently, an ongoing discussion. Being American, I can't help but think, hey, why not let us in? There's good stuff here. Mix it up.

But I realize it's a bit more complicated. There is a theory that backs such exclusion. Regional publications are in place to strengthen community or adhere to tradition, women-only or minority-only publications say they are giving focused voice to the underrepresented gender or culture(s) in literature. Publications by any minority in the the larger scene can often be ignored, and the more people we include, the more difficult it can be sometimes for a mainstream audience to agree on what will appeal/educate/entertain/illuminate the world most for a general audience.

I see both sides, but I can't deny that everything inside me screams exclusion is counter productive, in the case of gender or culture or region. I believe, truly I believe this, that focus is good, but total exclusion is not. I feel a pang every time I read an amazing Canadian literary magazine, for instance, that I'd love to submit to, only to see I'm on the do-not-enter list.

What do you think? Will the cream rise to the top, or will voices be buried if all are included? Is the only way to fight exclusion becoming exclusionary? Or, does fighting fire with fire only make for a larger flame?


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