Vanessa Place, Mongrel Coalition and notes on coercion

A petition is being circulated to have conceptual poet Vanessa Place removed from the committee selecting panels for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in LA next year.

I was only vaguely aware of Place's work until this past week, but knew her writing was racially charged and controversial. I examined her videos and Twitter account – where she has been tweeting excerpts from Mammy and where the n-word is used in Gone With the Wind – and decided to sign the petition.

I fully believe in her right to make art – even if it is grotesquely offensive – but I am less certain if she should be selecting panels for an organization which claims to strive toward diversity (that's a whole other post, probably). Art has consequences, especially if it is tone-deaf and culturally appropriative. When your "artist's statement" makes no sense, don't expect your racist words and imagery to make sense to the public at large.

On the other hand, the divisive tone and scare tactics by the Mongrel Coalition Against Gringpo (especially on their Twitter account) is unconscionable. Threatening other writers (including those of color) with censure – to "disappear" them – if they don't denounce Place and sign the petition is another technique to bully and silence. There is no attempt at dialogue, debate or to have any kind of nuanced conversation. Belittling, harassing and mocking writers you claim to be in alliance with is counterproductive and, frankly, makes you look like a bunch of assholes. Sadly, it reminds me of the caps-locked rants from conservative whack jobs and right wing religious loons who scream into the void about marriage equality, for example, being the downfall of civilization.

Credit goes to the Mongrel Coalition for bringing the Vanessa Place issue to the forefront and for their justifiable anger. It's too bad they can't take that rage and hone it to a fine knife rather than wielding it like a truncheon. Eliminating white supremacy, which is part of MCAG's mission, is a no-brainer; threatening to silence those who don't agree with your method of doing so – or dare to make an alternative suggestion – makes you an oppressor. Eliminating racism is the end goal, so let's continue to work toward it without alienating those who are also striving for that goal.

Examine Vanessa Place's work and make your own decision rather than being coerced. Don't let someone else make it for you.

Update: AWP tweeted just after 9:30 p.m. that Vanessa Place has been removed from the panel selection committee and a full statement will be released tomorrow.

Update 2: AWP's "statement" is as tone-deaf as Vanessa Place's work. Including links to two white guys explaining Place's work and expressing concern about the "ill-will" against AWP is sure to cause more backlash. You can read it at this link.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for this summary and analysis. Not everyone is on social media or following conversations there in depth the way you do. Some people only see the parts of the story that make their way to literary journals and sites. Those distillations don't capture the tone and approach some people aligned or affiliated with MCAG and other radical activist groups choose to use on Twitter. For this reason, the kind of detailed analysis you present is especially important.

I appreciate that you can give credit to MCAG for an incredible show of force with regard to Vanessa Place's position on the 2016 AWP subcommittee while at the same time calling attention to some of the tactics used in that campaign. This is not an either/or situation. I appreciate that you don't take an either/or stance with regard to MCAG.

I believe we need a set of finely honed knives to bring about the changes many of us ache to see in poetry. Let's all keep sharpening our tools.

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