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tony hoagland

Claudia Rankine Letter

February 13, 2011

I wanted to share this letter from Claudia Rankine. If you feel passionate about this topic, please consider sharing your thoughts.


Dear friends,

As many of you know I responded to Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change” at AWP. I also solicited from Tony a response to my response. Many informal conversations have been taking place online and elsewhere since my presentation of this dialogue. This request is an attempt to move the conversation away from the he said-she said vibe toward a discussion about the creative imagination, creative writing and race.

If you have time in the next month please consider sharing some thoughts on writing about race (1-5 pages).

Here are a few possible jumping off points:

– If you write about race frequently what issues, difficulties, advantages, and disadvantages do you negotiate?

– How do we invent the language of racial identity–that is, not necessarily constructing the “scene of instruction” about race, but create the linguistic material of racial speech/thought?

– If you have never written consciously about race why have you never felt compelled to do so?

– If you don’t consider yourself in any majority how does this contribute to how race enters your work?

– If fear is a component of your reluctance to approach this subject could you examine that in a short essay that would be made public?

– If you don’t intend to write about race but consider yourself a reader of work dealing with race what are your expectations for a poem where race matters?

– Do you believe race can be decontextualized, or in other words, can ideas of race be constructed separate from their history?

– Is there a poem you think is particularly successful at inventing the language of racial dentity or at dramatizing the site of race as such? Tell us why.

In short, write what you want. But in the interest of constructing a discussion pertinent to the more important issue of the creative imagination and race, please do not reference Tony or me in your writings. We both served as the catalyst for this discussion but the real work as a community interested in this issue begins with our individual assessments.

If you write back to me by March 11, 2011, one month from today, with “OPEN LETTER” in the subject heading I will post everything on the morning of the 15th of March. Feel free to pass this on to your friends. Please direct your thoughts to

In peace,


My big confession about the AWP Conference? I barely attend panels. I’m more interested in talking with friends and meeting people we’ve published.

The Colorado Convention Center does not believe in hydrating its guests. You will find no water available in the halls — unlike previous AWPs — because this convention center wants you to buy expensive bottles of water from the various cafes inside the hall. And you need water in Denver since it’s so dry there.

On the good side, I would be happy to have the conference in this space every year for the rest of my life. Although Denver proves to be a haul from DC, we had space to breathe and move. In 2003, all the panels took place in the main hotel where the majority of the people stayed. The elevators could not keep up with demand. People tried using the stairwells and got trapped if they were not guests with passcards. A Big Mess.

AWP outdid themselves choosing this space. Live and learn, I suppose. The panels mostly took place in the convention center, which left the hotels less crowded than they would otherwise be.

The MFA@UFL reunion was this afternoon. My fellow MFAers from the 1800s showed up. One person publishes a book every time I change my clothes. He’s one of the most productive people I know. A few of the current grad students arrived. I’d met with them about their poetry just the week before at The University of Florida in Gainesville (not Tallahassee, folks).

At some point, I attended the Craig Arnold tribute. I had some serious trouble deciding which panel to attend. It seemed the panels I most wanted to attend took place in the same slot. Other times, there was absolutely no panel that piqued my interest.

Husband attended several panels. I will be reviewing his notes.

Which panel was I most sad to miss? The Donald Revell/Tony Hoagland panel. Thankfully, January O’Neill took notes.