Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us"

Eds note: Earlier today, Gale deleted her post at Huffington Post. If you are looking for it, here is a link to download a pdf: AWP Is Us


Yesterday (8/24/2015), I read Kate Gale's post, "AWP Is Us." Here's a screen cap of the second and third paragraphs in her post:

Gale recounts being at a dinner where a woman leaned over to her and said that AWP hates Native Americans. She writes that she took out a pen and paper and asked the woman who, at the AWP office, hates Indians. Gale says that she imagined David Fenza saddling a horse and going out to shoot Indians. She says the woman fumbled around and couldn't tell her who the "Indian hater" was.

Her unstated conclusion is that the woman's remark has no merit. I take whatever fumbling there was as a sign that the woman was astounded at Gale's response. Reading Gale's post, it is clear that her demeanor towards the woman was aggressive.

What are the conditions in Kate Gale's world, in her head and heart, that prompt her to hear the words "hate Native Americans" and imagine someone getting on a horse to shoot Indians? She probably thinks her imaginings are clever. Those imaginings, however, illuminate a lot about what-is-wrong-with-literature, and with AWP, and with a huge swath of society.

Past Tense

I wonder if Gale has Native friends or colleagues? I wonder if she reads Native writers? The answer to those questions may be yes, but none of them came to mind in her imagining. Instead, she went to a historical time period. That reflects the tendency to think of Native peoples as part of the past, not present.

Shooting Indians

I wonder if Gale is aware that, today, Native people are on the list of people most likely to be killed by law enforcement?  Here's a chart from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, published on August 26, 2014:

Gale's imaging (horse/Stetson) sound like something out of a Western, but let's consider a common phrase: off the reservation. That phrase goes back to a period when, if a Native person left a reservation without permission of the government agent, that person could be shot. Indeed, Carlos Montezuma's mother left the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona, without permission, to try to find her little boy. She was shot in the back, and killed, by an Army scout.

My point is that Gale's imagining's aren't funny. 
They aren't clever. They are offensive. 

Her post was much discussed amongst Native writers and scholars yesterday. Those conversations continue, today. Will there be a response from AWP? from Gale?

We're not the only group that objects to what she said. Others are responding, too. Just before I hit the upload button, I saw a tweet from AWP:

Will Gale have one, too? Will this and other high profile AWP problems, prompt change within AWP?

Update, 9:20, August 26, 2015

I posed the question: what is in Gale's head and heart, such that she imagined a white person shooting an Indian. What classic, popular, and award-winning books did she read as a kid? These two, perhaps, that are assigned across classrooms, today? That haven't gone out of print?

Maybe it is Pa, of Little House on the Prairie, imagining himself stalking wild animals and Indians. That's in Little House in the Big Woods on page 53.

Maybe it is Edward, in The Matchlock Gun, shooting the Indians who are after his mom (note: I object to bias like this because the men being shot at are husbands and fathers who were defending their families and homelands from outsiders intent on getting their lands by whatever means possible). It won the Newbery Medal and, during the Bush administration, it was recommended as a book that would teach kids American history under the theme of courage):

Update, 10:20, August 26, 2015
A colleague pointed me to Kate Gale's blog, a post in 2013, about taking it easy at Thanksgiving. She opens with this...

Update, 7:15 AM, August 28, 2015

Publisher's Weekly ran a story on Kate Gale's essay yesterday. The reporter, Claire Kirch, suggested that one of Gale's errors was in using Indians rather than Native Americans. In other words, Gale's essay would be improved if she had written "shooting Native Americans" rather than "shooting Indians." I was astonished that she made that suggestion, AND that her editors at Publisher's Weekly didn't flag it. Here's my open letter to Kirch. If Claire Kirch was Kate Gale's editor

And, see A Series of Unfortunate Events by Linda Rodriguez of the Indigenous-Aboriginal Writers Caucus of AWP.


Gabrielle Halko said...

I haven't attended AWP in a while, but I went to grad school for creative writing and I know a lot of folks who attend AWP's conference. It is maddening, but not at all surprising, to hear that AWP suffers from the same homogeneity and resistance to change as so many other bodies in the literary world.

IMO it's not enough for AWP to say "We didn't know and we don't endorse it." Kate Gale needs to be removed as *any* sort of spokesperson, actual or implied, for AWP until she can think and write about diversity and inclusion without sounding blindly privileged and dismissive of the people she purports to represent.

AWP has a real opportunity here to make something constructive happen out of this fiasco. It will be interesting to see how the organization responds.

NativeScientist said...

Hear, hear, Gabrielle!