Letter to Kate Gale of “AWP is Us”

Dear Kate Gale,

Thank you for bringing the important matter of the privileged homogeneity of the AWP Conference to light via your recent Huffington Post article entitled “AWP is Us.” It is important to open this complex issue and explore it for what it is. I’m afraid, however, your reasoning and defense is almost entirely off-base.

First of all, it appears that your definitions of exclusion and intolerance are solely physical—as you write, “I pictured David Fenza saddling up a horse, Stetson in place, going out to shoot Indians. It was an unlikely image.” So, I guess, because Fenza is not murdering minorities in his spare time, there is no need to inspect and better route diversity efforts within AWP?

No. Sorry, not even close.

How about, intolerance is silencing the voices of whole communities, omitting the telling of so many stories because of the intensely subjective, largely flawed process that is AWP panel selection?

In particular, I’d like to focus on one particularly disturbing excerpt of your extremely disturbing letter:

First of all, as someone who is 50% Jewish, I want to know just how Jewish AWP is. How many Jews apply to panels? How many Jews have worked at the office, not counting the accountant? Is there any level of anti-Semitism going on at AWP? With some added queries, we can nail down the Jewish question.

Of course, I want to know about gender preference diversity as well. How gay is AWP? I would say that I’m about 30% gay, that percentage accounting for all the time with girls before I started dating guys and which I’d be happy to return to if the need arises. We could simply ask applicants, how gay are you? If the person is confused, AWP could lay out some questions to help tease out the truth. If you are a female and not sure if you’re gay, think about this. Did you attend Smith or Reed? How many pairs of Doc Martens do you have? Have you seen the movie Bound more than once? If male, do you attend musicals regularly? Do you have a large Barbara Streisand collection? Do you shop at Crate and Barrel?

Okay, aside from the alarming stereotypes flagrantly used in the above excerpt of your letter (Barbra Streisand? Jewish accountants?) and the supreme (and, frankly, offensive) misunderstanding of sexual orientation displayed here, there’s the simple fact that as minorities—as members of color, as members across the expansive spectrum of gender and sexual orientation, as female members or members of a particular religion—we don’t, and never would, strive to host “black panels,” nor “gay panels,” nor “Jewish panels” (etc.) in a world in which all voices are given equal respect and weight. We do not strive to be tokenized, to be labeled in the way you have labeled us. In the same way panels are not labeled “white,” are not labeled “inclusive of men” or even “exclusive of women,” we do not want to be defined by something as physical as one aspect of our identities—because there is so much inside each well of identity, each race, gender, socio-economic class, religion, and everywhere else.

Imagine if every white-washed, straight-washed, (etc.) panel accepted to the conference were labeled and written off merely as “white-washed,” “straight-washed,” etc.

We minority writers have interests beyond our identities, but even if we didn’t, our identities should not be rendered insufficient for exploration in the academic and social setting the AWP conference provides. To imply that further efforts to encourage and house diverse panels are not worth AWP’s precious time—or, even worse, that each “diversity panel” should be carefully counted and selected on the basis of how overtly it applies to the stereotypical terms of each well of diversity—is not only inaccurate, but also inherently problematic.

Finally, even the idea that AWP is Us is problematic, because it ignores the diversity inside of “us.” It neglects the intersectionality that must be considered—we are not all white and female, writing an angry vent letter in defense of a privileged organization from the Red Hen Press publishing house. Such an implication would be irresponsible, as well as dangerous.

So, Kate Gale, your tremendous bouts of ignorance and privilege are showing. Perhaps it would be best to sit down and listen to the chorus of dissent for the legitimate criticism that it is.

Peter LaBerge

Peter LaBerge founded The Adroit Journal in 2010, as a high school sophomore. His work appears in Crazyhorse, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, Pleiades, and Tin House, among others. He is the recipient of a 2020 Pushcart Prize.

  1. Bravo. I just read her letter and felt enraged, so I was thrilled to happen upon yours shortly thereafter. (Ironically, I had just submitted my annual subscription to AWP moments before reading either of these.)

  2. stereotypical criticism of a stereotypical article. yay rah our team. why would so many people who want a voice in life get involved in the dying industries that are publishing and academia, i will never understand

Leave a Reply