Monday, January 19, 2009

Beth Kanell: Remarks on Jan 19

Yesterday, I posted a bingo card about cultural appropriation. A few minutes ago, Beth Kanell, author of DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER, posted a comment to a blog that starts out

"Don't sweat the Seale/Dow review..."

She follows that dismissal with "...Dow, whose standing as an Abenaki in Vermont is significant..." But then she goes on to blame Dow for the problems in the book! Kanell said

"....she [Dow] chose not to say a word back when her thoughts could have been incorporated in the story."

With those words, she suggests that she would have actually listened to Dow back then. But, her repeated dismissal's of Dow, Seale, myself and others who are critical of her book speak volumes about what she chooses to hear. If what we say has not affected her speech right now, I seriously doubt it would have mattered "back when" the book was in manuscript.

This writer's behavior is the perfect illustration of white privilege, but a particularly nasty form of white privilege. One that seeks to benefit from Native peoples, that tries to say she's rescuing or helping Native peoples, but then reaches out to tell us we're wrong to object to her.

Kanell's arrogance is stunning.

[Note: The blog she commented at is called Swiftly to the Top, at a post on historical fiction. In the event the owner of Swiftly to the Top takes down his blog, I've copied comments submitted there to the end of this post. See them below.]

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Update, 2:17 PM, CST

Kanell just replied to my comment on Swiftly to the Top, saying:

I listen, and I learn, always. But if I failed to stand up for the generous and kind people who invested research and thinking in this book, I'd be doing them a great disservice.

Thanks again, Pepe, for the review. I appreciate it, and I'm glad you gave your opinion. Read on!


Kanell's audacity is beyond words.

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UPDATE, 8:45 PM, Jan 19, 2008

Just in case Pepe (the owner of the Swiftly to the Top blog) decides to take down his site at some point, I'm copying (below) the entirety of the discussion from his site and will paste additional comments as they appear there.




Blogger Debbie Reese said...
Doris Seale and Judy Dow, both women with Abenaki identity, wrote an essay that is highly critical of DARKNESS. Their review is on my blog. americanindiansinchildrensliterature.net
December 7, 2008 3:48 PM
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Blogger Beth Kanell said...
Great to see historical fiction on your blog -- thanks! M. T. Anderson rocks, and I'm definitely a Sarah Vowell fan. Don't sweat the Seale/Dow review too much; Dow, whose standing as an Abenaki in Vermont is significant, was one of an armful of Native Americans who saw the book while in manuscript, and she chose not to say a word back when her thoughts could have been incorporated in the story. But thanks to some other great folks behind the scenes, who helped me test both the history and the emotional truth of the story, The Darkness Under the Water came through. If you feel like looking at some more of the amazing Vermont history -- and wider! -- behind the story, take a peek at BethKanell.com. And thanks a lot, Pepe, for mentioning the book. Sorry it took me so long to catch up with you!
January 19, 2009 8:37 AM


Blogger Debbie Reese said...
"Don't sweat the Seale/Dow review..." I'm stunned at Kanell's words! By now, I would think she'd have taken feedback from myself and others to heart. She has not, as evidenced by these words. They only add to my impression that you really have no insight into what you've done. There's been lengthy discussion of Kanell and her book --- not favorable --- in many places. Please visit my site to see some of it. And there's a great deal happening, too, on livejournal. I'm at http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.net
January 19, 2009 8:51 AM
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Blogger 
Beth Kanell said...
I listen, and I learn, always. But if I failed to stand up for the generous and kind people who invested research and thinking in this book, I'd be doing them a great disservice. Thanks again, Pepe, for the review. I appreciate it, and I'm glad you gave your opinion. Read on!
January 19, 2009 12:14 PM


Blogger Debbie Reese said...
You're listening to Seale, Dow, myself and our critiques of your book? If you were, it seems to me you would not be saying "don't sweat" the Dow/Seale essay. You fault Dow for not providing feedback on your manuscript. That's a bit odd, considering she didn't have your manuscript prior to publication. And I see here you are no longer saying that you consulted Nancy Gallagher, the woman who wrote the book you drew from to write your novel.
January 19, 2009 12:33 PM
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Blogger  
Beth Kanell said...
Sorry, Pepe, for the brief sideline here: Debbie Reese, here are the details you're missing: In 2005 I spoke by phone with researcher/writer Nancy Gallagher, and arranged to meet her in person to share with her the first draft of my first attempt to build a work of historic fiction that could draw some much-needed attention to the injustice of the Abenaki situation in Vermont. (Her book Breeding Better Vermonters shows how the situation developed.) We did indeed connect, enjoyed meeting each other, and I handed her a full copy of the manuscript. When I phoned her a month or so later, she said she hadn't yet finished reading it, found it interesting, and wanted permission to share it with her research associate, Judy Dow. I was honored, and of course agreed. So Ms. Dow, as far as I know, had the manuscript then, and was in discussion with Ms. Gallagher. When I took the entire book apart and wrote a new one, adjusting the time period and points of view to reflect history more clearly, and to craft a better story, I provided that manuscript also to Ms. Gallagher, with the same permission. Hence I have reason to believe that Ms. Dow had the new book at that time (2006). In early 2008, a group of women in my region formed a steering committee to promote a history conference for teens. Ms. Gallagher was one of us, and asked to bring Ms. Dow into the group also. Although Ms. Dow did not interact with the group e-mails or attend planning meetings, she was on every full-group circulation list and was well aware of The Darkness Under the Water, as I talked about it with the group as part of what I'd like to bring to the discussion. I telephoned Ms. Dow on Sunday Dec. 7, 2008, following her first concerned e-mails about the conference schedule, and learned from her of her review, which she said was already in several places online. As you know, I disagree with a number of points in the review, but every reader will see a book differently; we bring our own lives and experiences to our reading. In that telephone conversation, as I began to understand the pain that Ms. Dow brought to the book, I specifically told her that I was sorry that reading it had increased her awareness of that pain. Please do watch the book's web site for revised discussion questions later this month; the revision was triggered by listening to Ms. Dow, reading what she and Ms. Seale wrote, and reading the responses of others online. Your input is heard. And again, Pepe, thank you for your courtesy in sharing your blog space for this sidetrack on one are of the outreach that took place.
January 19, 2009 3:16 PM

Blogger
Debbie Reese said...
Ms. Kanell: Do you know, in fact, if Gallagher gave Dow the manuscript? You seem to take silence as affirmation of your book. Elsewhere, you said you changed the discussion questions because of what Beverly Slapin said about them. Now you're saying you changed them because of what Dow and Seale said. Which is it? You're a white woman, trying to rescue Native history. Native people are telling you you've screwed up, yet you continue to defend the book! You "hear" and "listen" like a belligerent teenager. By the way, Kanell, I read your book, too, and am recommending that people not purchase it.
January 19, 2009 4:18 PM
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Blogger  
Beth Kanell said...
Ms. Reese, sorry but this is going to have to be my last post on this topic for a bit -- so let me briefly say, I trusted Ms. Gallagher when she said she and Ms. Dow were already discussing the book. I've changed the web-site discussion questions because of input from different people on different questions -- as you know quite well, the questions that offended Ms. Slapin were changed within an hour of her explaining how she had interpreted them. In discussion with you last month, I said I'd make time to review all of them and rework them in mid January, and the Dow/Seale review certainly affects that work. I'm just waiting for one more person's related commentary to arrive; the revised set will post around the end of this week. I suggest that those of us concerned about miscarriages of justice work together to bring it forward. Since there has been so little attention to Vermont's period of scientific abuse of humanity, and its continued effects, I thank you for discussing and reading The Darkness Under the Water. By the way, I hope those of you "visiting" this discussion through other sites will take time to read the other material available here. Thank you, Pepe.
January 19, 2009 5:00 PM

Blogger  
Debbie Reese said...
I have permission from Nancy Gallagher to say that she 1) did not see DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER in manuscript form prior to its publication 2) if she had seen it, she could have offered corrections to the inaccurate portrayals in the book. So... Gallagher told you that she and Dow were discussing the book. What did Gallagher tell you about that discussion? If she told you nothing, then how can you---in good conscience---use her name? Aren't you embarrassed, Ms. Kanell?
January 19, 2009 5:09 PM
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Blogger Debbie Reese said...
If you go over to my blog, you will see that I am sharing the comments Kanell makes here with my readers. I don't know what your traffic is like, Pepe, but I just rolled over 350,000 visits to my site. I've been blogging for 2 1/2 years. My readers include Native people across the United States and Canada, librarians, teachers, writers, professors, reviewers---all who come to my site to get Native and critical perspectives on books. Here's a post from Jean Mendoza: "Even if it were the case that Ms. Dow "chose not to say a word back when her thoughts could have been incorporated into the story" as Ms. Kanell claims: Based on her review of Darkness -- a substantial critique that makes a lot of sense -- my hunch is that Ms. Dow's thoughts would have been something like "Don't Write This Story." If Ms. Dow had said so, would the author have done what she asked? Judging by Ms. Kanell's comments about the review over the past several weeks, I have another hunch: that nothing Judy Dow, Doris Seale, or anyone else said would have dissuaded Ms. Kanell from seeing the book through. I will continue to take the critical review by Doris Seale and Judy Dow very seriously. Not "sweating it" so much as just really respecting it. I wonder if there's a day coming when no Native person will be willing to take a pre-publication look at any Native-themed manuscript by a non-Native writer under any circumstances."
January 19, 2009 5:55 PM
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Blogger Debbie Reese said...
Judy Dow asked me to post this on her behalf: Sorry to burst your bubble, Beth. I never received your manuscript and only received an advance copy of DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER around Thanksgiving of 2008. That advance copy came to me from Nancy Gallagher, who passed it on to me because it was too terrible for her to finish. I, in turn, was so horrified by DARKNESS UNDER THE WATER that I shared that copy with Doris Seale and suggested Beverly Slapin read it as well. After all had read it, we decided to write the review, hoping to dissuade librarians from purchasing it. It is our intent to protect Abenaki children from reading this awful book. I have recently read the manuscript from your first book, DARKNESS UNDER THE ICE. I can understand why you took it apart and tried again. However, you still did not get it right. After Nancy shared with me her reactions to your book, I stopped communicating with you because I had decided that I did not want to be associated with your conference. About our Dec. 7, 2008, phone conversation, you write that you “began to understand the pain that Ms. Dow brought to the book, I specifically told her that I was sorry that reading it had increased her awareness of that pain.” Beth, you still don’t get it, do you? My problem is not the pain that I brought to the book, and it’s not that reading it has increased my awareness of the pain. It’s the pain that you caused by writing and publishing it. It’s not like me to be so direct, Beth, but it seems that that’s the only thing you understand. Your actions are continuing to bring pain to our Abenaki families and you need to stop. Judy Dow
January 19, 2009 6:47 PM
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6 comments:

Beverly Slapin said...

I'm stunned, too. This may be the first time in my experience that I've seen an author of historical fiction place blame on someone for NOT vetting her manuscript. Talk about arrogance.

jpm said...

Even if it were the case that Ms. Dow "chose not to say a word back when her thoughts could have been incorporated into the story" as Ms. Kanell claims: Based on her review of Darkness -- a substantial critique that makes a lot of sense -- my hunch is that Ms. Dow's thoughts would have been something like "Don't Write This Story."

If Ms. Dow had said so, would the author have done what she asked? Judging by Ms. Kanell's comments about the review over the past several weeks, I have another hunch: that nothing Judy Dow, Doris Seale, or anyone else said would have dissuaded Ms. Kanell from seeing the book through.

I will continue to take the critical review by Doris Seale and Judy Dow very seriously. Not "sweating it" so much as just really respecting it.

I wonder if there's a day coming when no Native person will be willing to take a pre-publication look at any Native-themed manuscript by a non-Native writer under any circumstances.

sanguinity said...

Kanell seems to be framing this as if Dow had some sort of responsibility to Kanell.

Even if Kanell asked Dow for comments -- which apparently did not happen -- that still doesn't create an obligation on Dow toward Kanell. You don't get to declare constraints on someone eles's future actions simply by asking them a question.

And this wasn't even so strong a situation as asking a direct question. *is befuddled*

sanguinity said...

Oh, and I also really "like" the implication that if her book is bad, it's Native people's faults. Again, as if she is owed something.

Jonquil said...

In that telephone conversation, as I began to understand the pain that Ms. Dow brought to the book, I specifically told her that I was sorry that reading it had increased her awareness of that pain.

[suppresses multiple curses]

"I'm sorry that you feel that way." The classic non-apology apology. With a side of "you're too damaged to really come to grips with what I was doing."

Damn.

Delux said...

as I began to understand the pain that Ms. Dow brought to the book

Say what now?