Oh HELL no.

Cross-posted from my book blog.

We live in a world in which industry “best of” lists routinely ignore overlook women and people of color in favor of middle-aged white men and the occasional middle-aged white woman.  I guess, in Anis Shivani’s eyes, that means women and people of color are, by default, totally craptastic.

In his recent HuffPo article, “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers,” Shivani goes off on 15 writers. 9 of the 15 listed are women. Of the remaining 6 men, 1 is Dominican (Junot Diaz) and 1 is Jewish (Jonathan Safran Foer).

I’m sure we all have our own lists of overrated people–I know I do–but Shivani’s list egregiously dismisses POC writers, it seems, solely because they write from a POC point of view.  A sample of his arguments:

On Amy Tan (heading: “Mothers and Daughters and Dirty Laundry”):

Empowered other immigrant writers to make mountains out of the molehills of their minor adjustment struggles.

Jonathan Safran Foer (heading: “Idiot Savants and Suave Idiots”):

Debuted with harmless multiculturalism for the perennially bored in Everything Is Illuminated, with cute lovable foreigners and the slacker generation digging lovableness; a more pretentious “magical realist” novel was never written.

Jhumpa Lahiri (heading: “Nationalities and Meritocracies”):

Utterly unwilling (though probably fully capable, since she’s the only readable writer on this list) to write about anything other than privileged Bengali immigrants with PhDs living in Cambridge’s Central and Inman Squares, and making easy adjustments to the top of the American meritocratic pyramid.

Junot Diaz (heading: “Hijas and Abuelas”):

Doesn’t realize the fine line between presenting the dark underside of reality and glorifying it…His manic voice describes everything with the same faux energy, the ear-shattering ghetto volume, as though there were no difference between murder and puking.

Michiko Kakutani (heading: “Chekhovian and Forsterian”):

Not a writer, by any stretch of even my novelistic imagination, but I include her here as the enabler-in-chief for the preceding mediocrities. Simply the worst book critic on the planet. [His example of why she’s on the list: she praised Junot Diaz].

Immigrant writers make mountains out of molehills? Diaz writes with “ear-shattering ghetto volume?” Say what you will about these authors (I’m not exactly a Foer fan myself), but are you fucking kidding me with this racist bullshit?

But fear not! Shivani listed some authors who deserve your praise (and deserved the Pulitzer, unlike Lahiri and Diaz): Sherwood Anderson, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Henry Miller.

Hmm…lots of white men who wrote dudebooks. Color me surprised.


About Melissa

I love donuts. Chocolate iced, hold the sprinkles.
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4 Responses to Oh HELL no.

  1. Darth Paul says:

    Like many Ivy leaguer immigrants, this guy has it in his head that he knows all he needs to know- his list of approved authors totally belies this fact. And at the risk of sounding bigoted, I’m going to point out he’s a Indian Hindu, and males of that category generally have an attitude towards women that would make the Mutaween proud.

  2. Julian Real says:

    Ah, the life of white male supremacy and the world of worship of all beings both pale and male. Is anyone who isn’t white and a man called “genius”? Andrea Dworkin? Marimba Ani? Malalai Joya? Yanar Mohammed? No, they aren’t all writers first and foremost, except the first two, but they are all exceptional human beings, worthy of praise who get very little of it from white Western men.

    It seems to me that white men invented the terms “genius” and “great” so they’d have something to call each other, among other monikers of praise and pride.


  3. Darth Paul says:

    They seem to make exceptions for E. Asians. At least, the main stereotype I hear about E. Asians is how “smart and disciplined” they are. But even then, geniushood is relegated to music and math…literatary genius is largely requisitioned for WM.

  4. Julian Real says:

    I see the populations ignored and rendered invisbile to be Indigenous people of any gender; Black women usually; Brown women usually.

    Tokenistically, some men of color get included in such lists. Such as “Honorable mention to James Baldwin.”

    Lesbians, across class and race, usually ignored. Transgender people. Only if the stories make transgender reality seem like every transgender person wants to be “a traditional woman” or “a traditional man”. Intergender, naah. Intersex–only one or two books allowed—ever.

    That white, usually fifty-eighty-something white het men make the list, with a few gay white men tossed in for “diversity” only tells us who writes the lists, not who writes the best.

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