Speaking of dog-eared, there’s a page (133) in Wendy Lesser’s The Amateur (New York: Pantheon, 1999) that received that treatment a decade or so ago. It came to mind during the recent discussions about a Sherman Alexie selection for Best American Poetry. Lesser writes about serving on a NEA fellowship selection committee with a middle-aged black woman poet:

On the starting day of the panel, when this woman first entered the room–forty-five minutes late, nearly six feet tall, and wearing a hat and cape of indescribable complexity–I shivered with anxiety. Oh, no, I thought, she’s going to derail the whole process with some kind of endless political rhetoric. (Coming from Berkeley makes you prone to anxiety attacaks like these.) As it turned out, she was one of the best, fairest, and most intelligent panelists I have ever served with, but she was scary. She had, she confided to me on one of our lunch breaks, been thrown out of her high school for telling a bunch of the other girls that she was really an alien from another planet–and making them believe it. This story made sense to me after I saw her in action on the panel. …

Anywyay, it was her turn now to comment on the Asian refugee sequence, to put in her two cents about whether this pathetic but talented young girl deserved a prize or didn’t. “Well,” she said, “I don’t think this was written by any young Asian girl. I think it’s probably some white male screenwriter giving us his girlfriend’s story, or some such thing.” Those of us who were in favor of the poem gasped at this, in disbelief or despair. “I’ve read it over and over again, trying to figure out who wrote it, but I can’t,” she continued. “And finally I decided: Hey! If he can fool me, more power to him. No matter who wrote it, it’s a great poem, and I’m for it.” We all laughed at her then; the response seemed to typical, if atypically wrongheaded. …

One of the more famous names to reach our final list was that of a white male poet, author of several published books–and of the heartrending refugee-girl series. When we heard his name announced in conjunction with our cherished poem, we all shrieked in surprise and, a little, in chagrin. Only the Sister from Another Planet could sit calmly and quietly, Cheshire-cat smile adorning her face. She had been right, or as close to right as makes no difference, and she was the only one in the room who had given him the prize for purely literary reasons. (132-34)

[Posted in response to #100untimedbooks prompt 29: equality]

29 - equality