Writing Multicultural America: The Powers of Canon and Ethnicity

“Who gets to say what writing best speaks for the culture? Has there been a preemptive strike in which a largely white, male, protestant body of voice is taken to preside?”

America has long and vigorously been taken up with issue of cultural identity, the one and the many. Its literary authorship, Puritans to Postmoderns, has been no less so engaged. Who gets to say what writing best speaks for the culture? Has there been a preemptive strike in which a largely white, male, protestant body of voice is taken to preside? With the 1960s and the culture-wars the terms of debate radically altered. A whole-scale revision of who speaks, who writes, who is to be listened, who (and what) is to be taught, has been talking place. The language, often warring, has been that of canon and multiculturalism, mainstream and periphery, a one “agreed” hierarchy of imaginative expression as against a huge and actually long ethnic plurality of idiom and memory. The differing claimants have been many and vociferous. This lecture addresses the issues in some fullness. It looks again at the various working terms of reference, and then at what in the past has gone into the formation of the American literary canon. There follows a selective analysis of four multicultural arenas – Native America, Afro-America, Latino/a America and Asian America.

Professor A. Robert Lee

A. Robert Lee, a Britisher who helped establish American Studies in the UK, was Professor in the English department at Nihon University, Tokyo from 1997 to 2011, having previously taught for almost three decades at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK. He now lives in Murcia, Spain. He has held visiting professorial positions in the US at the University of Virginia, Bryn Mawr College, Northwestern University, the University of Colorado, the University of California Berkeley, and the University of New Mexico.

His academic books include Designs of Blackness: Mappings in the Literature and Culture of Afro-America (1998); Postindian Conversations (1999), with Gerald Vizenor; Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions (2003), which won the American Book Award in 2004; Gothic to Multicultural: Idioms of Imagining in American Literary Fiction (2009) and Modern American Counter Writing: Beats, Outriders, Ethnics (2010). Has also been responsible for collections like Other Britain, Other British (1995); Beat Generation Writers (1996); China Fictions/English Language: Literary Essays in Diaspora, Memory, Story (2008); The Salt Companion to Jim Barnes (2010); with Deborah L. Madsen, Gerald Vizenor: Texts and Contexts (2010); Native American Writing, 4 Vols (2011), African American Writing, 5 Vols (2013), US Latino/a Writing (2014); and, with Alan R. Velie, The Native American Renaissance: Literary Imagination and Achievement (2013).

His creative work is reflected in Japan Textures: Sight and Word (2007), with Mark Gresham; Tokyo Commute: Japanese Customs and Way of Life Viewed from the Odakyu Line (2011); and the poetry collections Ars Geographica: Maps and Compasses (2012); Portrait and Landscape: Further Geographies (2013); Imaginarium: Sightings, Galleries, Sightlines (2013); Americas: Selected Verse and Vignette (2015); Password: A Book of Locks and Keys (2016); and Aurora: A Spanish Gallery of Image and Text (IAFOR Publications on-line, 2016).

A. Robert Lee was a Keynote Speaker at The Asian Conference on Arts & Humanities 2015 (ACAH2015) in Osaka, Japan.

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