The literary canon, I mean. What canon were you thinking about?
Anyways, today I saw one of my favorite authors speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Lauren Groff, promoting her new collection of short stories, Florida, had a lot to say about reading, readers, and intersectionality.
There's a phenomenon amongst readers where women will read a variety of authors but men typically only read other men. If you look in the New York Times By The Book column, male authors rarely cite female authors as influencers while female authors tend to have a more varied list of inspiring artists.
When I think back to my English Literature undergraduate classes, the only female novelist we read was Mary Shelley (whom I admittedly really dislike) and a handful of poets, like Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in our core classes. Only when I took a Women's Literature course were Virginia Wolfe, Alice Walker, and Jeannette Walls on the syllabus. It will come as no surprise to most people that the course was comprised of 100% women. There was not a single man in attendance for the semester. Moreover, it was and still is an elective and not a required course.
And this only covers a single divide in society--gender. And even the discussion about gender is often limited to cis-gendered men and women.
Syllabi rarely incorporates work written by people of color, people of the LGBTQ community, and/or people who subscribe to non-Christian beliefs unless you elect to take a class that focuses on those specific communities. And with that, the canon is undeniably white and male.
I feel fairly confident that if you ask any male author, they will say they're well read. But as Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett points out, how can you be well read if you don't read women? And to take it steps further, how can you be well read if you're only reading books set in whitewashed America or Europe? You're missing the majority of what the world has to offer.
Intersectionality is where we learn. Where boundaries are illuminated and we get to decide whether to push against and shatter them or leave them in place.
And I think Groff articulates it best: "And it isn’t because male writers are bad people. We know they’re not bad people. In fact, we love them. We love them because we have read them."
Changing the canon doesn't mean removing the old, white guys from the mix. It means adding other perspectives to the collection.
Not sure where to start? Check these books out: