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Appropriate: A Provocation (Paperback)


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A timely, nuanced work that dissects the thorny debate around cultural appropriation and the literary imagination.

How do we properly define cultural appropriation, and is it always wrong? If we can write in the voice of another, should we? And if so, what questions do we need to consider first? In Appropriate, creative writing professor Paisley Rekdal addresses a young writer to delineate how the idea of cultural appropriation has evolved—and perhaps calcified—in our political climate. What follows is a penetrating exploration of fluctuating literary power and authorial privilege, about whiteness and what we really mean by the term empathy, that examines writers from William Styron to Peter Ho Davies to Jeanine Cummins. Lucid, reflective, and astute, Appropriate presents a generous new framework for one of the most controversial subjects in contemporary literature.

About the Author

Paisley Rekdal is the author of ten books of poetry and nonfiction. A former recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, she is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah and is the state’s poet laureate. She lives in Salt Lake City.

Praise For…

Such are the culture wars of our moment, with headlines that range from the infuriating to the ridiculous. Luckily, we also have Paisley Rekdal... Redkal addresses the conundrum of cultural appropriation with patience and care.
— Carolyn Kellogg - Los Angeles Times

Rekdal picks apart the hotly debated topic of who gets to tell what story as she examines the evolution of cultural appropriation as it pertains to literature. In her scrutinization of authorship, Rekdal points to bigger questions surrounding whiteness, identity and empathy.
— Time

Full of prompts and conscientious, open-minded essays on cultural appropriation, cultural appreciation, and adaptation.
— A.V. Club

Cogent, thoughtful letters about the vexed problem of cultural appropriation... Rekdal’s sophisticated analysis reveals a generous respect for the creative process... An astute, lucid examination of an incendiary issue.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Compassionate and smart, a mapping of [Rekdal's] own lifetime of reading and teaching, an exploration of whose stories we tell—and how, and why—and the way returning to a work of art often elicits such a drastically different response from our first encounter.
— Natalie Bakapoulos - Millions

Paisley Rekdal’s Appropriate is wonderfully inappropriate. It asks difficult questions (without pretending to have all the answers); it places the author in intellectual discomfort; it acknowledges her own uncertainty and ambiguity; and all the while it remains impressively nuanced and gyroscopically balanced. A necessary contribution.

— David Shields, author of Reality Hunger

Appropriate is deft exploration of one of the most delicate questions in contemporary literature: how do we create work beyond our own experience without colonizing someone else’s? As a writer, I’ve spent two decades waiting for a book like this. As a teacher of writing, I will spend the next two decades recommending it.

— Mat Johnson, author of Pym

Anyone who wishes to understand appropriation, and not just react to it, should read this book. Paisley Rekdal brings years of teaching, writing, and critical thinking to this subject, with literary analyses, historical and theoretical frameworks, and practical advice. Appropriate is a book of immense wisdom and clarity, sure to become required reading for writers everywhere.

— Beth Bich Minh Nguyen, author of Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

[Rekdal] rejects holistic and untroubled conclusions in favor of contradictory multiplicity... Thoughtful [and] investigative.
— Booklist (starred review)

[A] passionate, nuanced take [that] will raise sharp questions for literary-minded readers.
— Publishers Weekly
Product Details
ISBN: 9781324003588
ISBN-10: 1324003588
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: February 16th, 2021
Pages: 240
Language: English