Today I had the opportunity to have lunch with Tiphanie Yanique, author of How to Escape from a Leper Colony, a collection of short stories. I took a Caribbean Lit and Theory class last semester in which this was required reading, and the professor arranged for us to meet Tiphanie when she visited campus. Only a few of us were able to show up, but the conversation was no less vibrant because of it.
Instead of focusing only on her stories, as I expected, we branched off into politics and a discussion of the literary canon. As a potential professor (someday, I hope), this point was of particular interest to me. Basically, her opinion is that we need to diversify the canon; expand it from white, male authors. Yet we also need to be aware that in our quest to include female authors, gay authors, and authors of color, we cannot focus solely on those points which make them unique from the canon. These ideas are certainly important, but should not occupy the entire discussion of a literary work. Rather, her opinion is that we acknowledge the impact of gender, race, or what have you, and then move on to make connections with the world and humanity, which normally happens with canon (again, white male authors) works.
What saddens me is that I don't know if I've considered this before. Whenever I take a course which focuses somewhat on women's writing, I think, "What's the feminist viewpoint here?" Reading a book by an author who's not white, it's: "How does race play a role?" It's easiest to look only at the surface of the text. I certainly recognize the deeper elements involved, such as what the author wishes to say about people or a certain place, but many times it takes a backseat. One of the many reasons I love reading and literature is that I am able to take something deeper away from it, and now I fear I have been missing out on something. Maybe I have, or maybe I'm not giving myself (and my observations) enough credit
If I recognize the problem, I can work on mending it. Now that I know I have a tendency to see only the most obvious messages in the text, I hope to catch myself and dig farther into the reading to see what else can be pulled out of it.
And if I ever become a college professor, I'll be sure to remember Tiphanie Yanique's words. I will not become one more person to focus on the most obvious aspects of the author's life; instead, I will delve into their text in a search for truth.