amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Conflict Resolution in The Volatile Literary Community

Recently there have been flames and responses to events occurring on the Book Thug reading tour of Ottawa and Kingston. On Stuart Ross's Small Press List Serve, subscribers were provided with an open letter posted by Maggie Helwig on behalf of a number of writers. Many of you have been asking me what has been going on and I would rather not add fuel to the fire with my own inappropriate and only partial knowledge. Yet because I feel strongly about the subject of sexism, something that a few of the writers in question have been accused of, I felt it was necessary to write some kind of comment. If you haven't seen the Open Letter and are not subscribed to either the Small Press or Lexiconjury list on which it appeared, you can find it here on Gregory Bett's blog:

Here's my own two cents for what they're worth:

I am against sexism, but find that it is a very loaded term and would be very careful before labelling anyone with it. While I was at the Ottawa poetry reading in question, I saw nothing that I would label as sexist happening and I was awake and sober for the entire reading, present for most of it. The reading was very unusual and I found it entertaining and provocative.

While my sympathies are with Ms. Rawlings, (the person who has apparently been defamed), who I don't know personally, but have had the pleasure of hearing read a few times, I suggest that the items referred to in Ms. Helwig's open letter should be addressed by the parties involved. If I were someone being accused of something, I would rather my name be used, so that I could address my accusors.

In conflict resolution, people are brought together to talk about the issues. The Internet is a poor method for conflict resolution. My advice to all parties involved is to sit together over a few drinks, or perhaps tea, a less volatile libation, and have a chat about what went on. From an outsider's persepective, it seems that things have been bubbling in the Toronto literary community for a while now, getting it out in the open is a healthy step forward, but signing e-mail messages which accuse and convey innuendo and take sides, no, that isn't healthy.

Amanda (who is at the moment happy to be in Ottawa, where things literary are less volatile)


Anonymous said...

I do want to clarify (again) that it is not "my" open letter, though I was one of the people involved in drafting it and did agree to post it to the lex and smallpressers list. Specifically, the decision not to name particular individuals was not mine, though I think the reasons people had for this decision were solidly reasoned.

I wish it were possible to do something as simple as get people together over a cup of tea. Sadly, it has not been for some time. The letter is obviously flawed, as anything will be, but overall, I think it is better to say something than to say nothing.

Anonymous said...

Ironically, I forgot to sign my immediately preceding post.

-- maggie

Amanda Earl said...

Thanks, Maggie, for your response. I have now been led to believe that the whole matter concerns one particular member of your community who has said bad things about Ms. Rawlings and subsequetly to others. From the letter, I got the mistaken impression that it was a group of men acting sexist. Being rude to someone is inexcusable, and needs to be dealt with. But there was nothing sexist occuring at Ottawa's reading and this is what I was addressing. As to the rest, that is something your community will have to sort out, but I suggest that dealing with a person in person is the better way. People are very intense on the Internet, they say things that they would never say if they were to look the individual right in the eyes. I have always admired how supportive and inspiring the Toronto small press community has been. I hope that you don't let one bully poison this community. My main worry is the generalization and pluralizaton in the letter. I realize no words are perfect, mine included, but deciding to go public with the notion that a group of people have "colluded in sexist paradoying" is very serious and in my opinion, quite damaging.

Amanda Earl said...

My last comment on this: I think there are members of Toronto's literary community who have been the victims of sexist behaviour in the past. I think that the stuff that happened on the Bookthug tour was the catharctic straw that broke the camel's back and was labelled as sexist by those who have experienced such behaviour in the past and need some way to deal with that and to express it. I an not sure that this perspective had anything to do with what actually happened. I think that because of the history and also the frustration of dealing with a difficult person, many people jumped quickly on the bandwagon and signed the open letter. In the writing world, we are encouraged to say what we think, what we believe. We encourage those who are wild, sometimes even idiotic to be that way. Perhaps this encouragement goes too far at times. But is it sexist? I don't know. That has to be judged on an individual basis. In this case, it really doesn't sound like there was some kind of conspiracy of sexism, but that's in the here and now. If people are feeling mocked and victimized by attitudes in the Toronto small press communtity, that needs to be addressed. One thing this has taught me is that if I am at a reading, and I hear some kind of racist or sexist attitude toward me or anyone else, it is up to me to speak out, and I will. I will talk to the person directly. Ask him or her if he knows that his comments are very hurtful to me and ask if he cares? Perhaps he didn't realize. I'd give the person a chance to change.