emilybooks
I began reading Sarah Schulman’s book Gentrification of the Mind and a slow realization crept into my consciousness. I was afraid of my own gayness. I had become afraid of exploring my gayness in my work and people not being able to connect with it. I was afraid of people ignoring me or wanting to harm me if I wrote about being gay. I was afraid of never being reviewed by a major publication. I was afraid of never being published at all. I was afraid of being stuck in the Purple Room in Powell’s. I wanted to be “normal” and I wanted the opportunities of a “normal” person. I would even settle for the opportunities of a “normal” woman.
Emily Books: The Wall by Sara Renberg
emilybooks
Behind that potted plant, sitting crosslegged and getting coffee stains on the books, I was in comparative queer nirvana. The GLBT sections at B&N and Borders, with their cheerfully tacky rainbows, were refreshing compared to the dour library, and those potted plants were a place I could hide reading piles of trashy lesbian romance novels and Advocate magazines (before I learned from my elder radicals that the Advocate was an assimilationist pile of shit and learned to avoid it accordingly.) Even being ghettoized by the bookstores was a step forward from the crypto-mystical Freudian references that the canon had thrown at me about the insidious perils of Lesbianism. Even the further commercialization of the gay movement was an improvement over invisibility.

Emily Books: “Her broken heart had something to do with the collapse of culture.” 

Caty Simon on Empathy and being a “library lesbian”

emilybooks
emilybooks:

If you’re in NYC on May 13, come celebrate Sarah Schulman’s novel Empathy, our April book club pick, with the author and Barbara Browning, who’s also the author of two Emily Books picks.  We’re also thrilled to be cohosting the event with literary event crowdfunding resource Togather, which is buying everyone’s first drink (Thanks, Togather!) By posing a big, unanswerable question we hope to spark a conversation that will leave everyone with more questions. We’re also excited to host a conversation between two novelists who, in very different ways, dazzle and tantalize readers and provoke lingering thoughts about identity.We hope to see you there, and if you can’t make it, we’ll catch you up afterwards right here! 

Mark your calendars!

emilybooks:

If you’re in NYC on May 13, come celebrate Sarah Schulman’s novel Empathy, our April book club pick, with the author and Barbara Browning, who’s also the author of two Emily Books picks.  We’re also thrilled to be cohosting the event with literary event crowdfunding resource Togather, which is buying everyone’s first drink (Thanks, Togather!) 

By posing a big, unanswerable question we hope to spark a conversation that will leave everyone with more questions. We’re also excited to host a conversation between two novelists who, in very different ways, dazzle and tantalize readers and provoke lingering thoughts about identity.

We hope to see you there, and if you can’t make it, we’ll catch you up afterwards right here! 

Mark your calendars!

emilybooks
Empathy was my worst-selling book, the least reviewed (the Times ignored it), and the least translated (three foreign editions: Sheba, UK; Argument Verlag, Germany; Alfaguara, Spain). It has provoked the fewest Masters theses, doctoral dissertations, and chapters in academic books of any of my work. It is rarely taught. In short, it flopped.

But I love it. Empathy is my free, wild child, the book I wrote from my deepest most optimistic place with my greatest skill. And I am so grateful to Arsenal Pulp Press for rescuing it from the recycling bin. Maybe this time around, it will make more sense to someone other than me.
emilybooks
The chain booksellers, like Barnes and Noble, began to dominate the market, and they instituted a “gay and lesbian” section in many of their branch stores. This section was never positioned at the front of the store with the bestsellers. It was usually on the fourth floor hidden behind the potted plants. What this meant in practical terms was that those of us who had the integrity to be out in our work found our books literarily yanked off of the “Fiction” shelves and hidden on the gay shelves, where only “gay” people wanting “gay” books would dare to tread. It was an instant undoing of all the progress we had made to be treated as full citizens and a natural, organic part of American intellectual life.

Emily Books: What I’ve Learned from Empathy 

Sarah Schulman’s 2005 essay about how Empathy was written, marketed and received, originally published as an appendix to the edition that’s our April pick.

Truth is replaced by falsity, the false claim that the dominant culture writer does not have profound structural advantages replaces the truth that being out in one’s work, sexually honest, and truthful about the lived homosexual experience guarantees that one’s work will never be seen for its actual merit. The gentrified mind becomes unable to see lived experience because it is being bombarded by false stories. Even we, the practitioners, cannot understand the truthful positioning of our literature. In short, to be acceptable, literature cannot be sexually authentic. And, even though this is a requirement for approval, we look at the highly conditional and restricted approval as a sign of success instead of the failure that it actually is.

The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman

"to be acceptable, literature cannot be sexually authentic"

"sexually honest" is going on this list 

The part of “The Gentrification of the Mind” by Sarah Schulman about M.F.A. programs

"What counterindicates professionalization programs from real art-making are some key differences:

  • One is the homogenization of influences. Students in an MFA program are often exposed to the same ideas and artworks as their classmates. They don’t stumble through the world accruing eclectic influences, based on their own aesthetic interests, impulses and chance. They lose the opportunity to fight to be influenced, to check out weird things and trail after unusual people. This creates homogeneity.
  • Second, the process of going to school, the admission selection and the high cost, is itself an enormous filter, reducing who will ultimately have the access an MFA provides. This is further homogenizing the field. Graduate programs are filtered communities, the world is not.
  • Third— and most obnoxious—some MFA students and recent grads become focused on a concept of mainstream success that is predicated on the repetition of what is already known. Before they even achieve anything, many are already involved in the lifestyle of being mean to people who don’t have their pedigree and solicitous to those who do. There is an overemphasis on positioning one’s self and a grotesque lack of interest in real discussion about art and art-making, a lack of desire to grapple with something that matters, and to face one’s self realistically in an honest representation of the real world, lived and imagined. I am consistently surprised at the almost complete lack of discussion about the ideology and values of a play. Critics don’t bring it up and artists rarely discuss it. What does each specific play stand for? What is it rendering generic? What is it presenting as neutral? What is it saying about the consequences of experience? The prevailing ideology of the American theater is that the coming of age of the white male is the central and most important story in the culture. Most theaters are rigidly and dogmatically fixed in this idea. And when plays by “others” are allowed to be seen, the etent to which they are praised and rewarded often depends on the extent to which they reflect white males’ desire to be seen in a particular light. While never made explicit, as MFA programs prime writers for reward, the message about what kinds of content and points of view are acceptable is clearly articulated. There is an unartful reliance on the cutes of the exterior world, an engagement with values that place familiarity over expansion of consciousness.
  • Finally, the payoff of getting an MFA, the reward for paying that bribe in a sense, is that if the person was obedient enough, they can be helped for the rest of their career by their teachers and mentors behind the scenes. The fact of having graduated from a program creates the possibility of a kind of professional opportunity that a civilian cannot access because the institution becomes invested in their graduates doing well. It gives graduates a false sense of pride because they had certain advantages, and makes them treat people like themselves as though their work matters simply because they went to a specific school.”


The Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman 

(Schulman goes on to say she still encourages “working-class or poor students with talent” to go to these programs because “there is simply no other way of getting into the system.”  She also taught in one for 14 years. 

Though I don’t endorse all of Schulman’s views 100%, I might print this out and hand it to the next person who wonders why I didn’t get an MFA, encourages me to get one, or wonders why I don’t support my writing by teaching writing.)