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White Fiction

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Posted on July 16th, 2013 at 11:05 am

Jess Row from July-August 2013 Boston Review

The new issue of Boston Review (July/August 2013) compelled me to write a bit here about it (the last time I wrote here was about Jake Adam York’s death in December)—and it particularly compelled me because of Jess Row’s essay “White Flights: Fiction’s Racial Landscape,” an insightful, balanced commentary about the place (and absence) of race in so much contemporary white American fiction. One really eye-opening bit was about the absence of race as part of a larger American ideal of rootlessness, of finding oneself “exposed against a largely erased background.” Row deftly (and correctly, I feel) connect this to the absence of race in so much—though not all—white American fiction through the word deracination, which he pulls from an essay by Marilyn Robinson. “Deracination,” Row asserts, “is an American ideal: not to strip from the roots, but to de-race oneself.”

Boston Review July/August 2013 CoverI’m going to end this brief note with a compelling passage from the end of Row’s essay—but be sure to get the piece for yourself and read what may be the most insightful piece of writing on the landscape of late 20th and early 21st century American fiction yet—in other words, of where American fiction is now:

The dominant strain of fiction by white writers in this era represents what we might cynically call a massive reinvestment in white identity through the demarcation of new terrain (the exurbs) or through the reinvention of old (wilderness, urban gentrification). A more generous interpretation would be to see this fiction as a kind of willed amnesia, underscored by the reluctance of many creative writing teachers to confront issues of race and identity directly in the classroom and by the disinclination of most prominent book critics—and overwhelmingly white group—to bring race into play when writing about white authors.

(I am refreshed to see the ethical eye turned towards the creative writing instructor, as I so little hear about ethical need in creative writing pedagogy (though we hear about it constantly in the nursing or political science pedagogy, for just two examples).) Thanks to Boston Review for bringing this piece out.