Who Do You Read?
As many (hopefully all) of you know, February is Black History month so I wanted to write a little about the exclusion of black writers from the canon. As I discuss in my first post on this blog, one of the main creators of the Western Canon is Harold Bloom. His 1994 book, The Western Canon, contains the 26 authors Bloom considers most important to literary history. While there are black authors on his expanded list, 0 of the 26 initial authors are black.
Black people are not just left out of our literary canon, they are left out of our history textbooks. Textbooks have a long record when it comes to downplaying, or omitting, the horrors of slavery in the U.S. It doesn't help that most history textbooks used in the American public school system are written by white people. However, where the school system fails, incredible new resources like the 1619 Project are stepping in to provide the history education that's left out of the classroom.
So what do we do with the literary canon? I am not the first person to ask this question. Toni Morrison is known for her fiction, but she was also a fierce critic of the canon and white domination in literature. Her 1992 book Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination helped start a discussion about the canon that we're still having today. More recently, writers, teachers, and scholars, are contemplating whether the canon should be reformed or disregarded completely. It's an important debate, one I'll continue to explore on this blog, but what becomes clearer every day is that something has to change. And the first step to creating that change is not just reexamining what we read, but who we read.
**Note: I know there are a lot of links in this post, and I highly recommend clicking on them all, but if you only have time for one make it the 1619 Project