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: A Provocation, 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. Rekdal examines the debate between appropriation and imagination, exploring the ethical stakes of writing from the position of a person unlike ourselves.
What follows is a penetrating exploration of fluctuating literary power and authorial privilege, about whiteness and what we really mean by the term "empathy." Rekdal offers a study of techniques, both successful and unsuccessful, that writers from Ernest Hemingway to Peter Ho Davies to Jeanine Cummins have employed to create characters outside their own identities. Lucid, reflective, and astute, Appropriate: A Provocation presents a generous new framework for one of the most controversial subjects in contemporary literature. Out February 2021, with W.W. Norton.
Starred Kirkus Review
Starred Booklist Review
Starred Library Journal Review
Publisher's Weekly Review
TIME's Best New Books to Read in February
New York Times New & Noteworthy Book
AV Club: Five New Books to Read in February
Read an excerpt on LitHub. Listen to a conversation on NPR's "Think": Is Appropriation in Art Always Wrong? Listen to an interview on Access Utah, "Addressing Appropriation." Listen to "Fully Booked" Kirkus Podcast. Listen to podcast interviews on "The Write Question" and LITerally. Watch a conversation about craft and appropriation with Matthew Salesses for City of Asylum. Read a review in The Los Angeles Times, AV Club, and Bad Form. Read interviews with Tupelo Quarterly, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, and Writers' Digest.
Appropriate: A Provocation is now available for purchase.
The Broken Country is a book-length essay on cultural trauma and the inter-generational legacies of war. In 2012, a young Vietnamese man named Kiet Thanh Ly walked into a downtown Salt Lake City megastore, purchased a knife, and began stabbing white male passersby in the parking lot, purportedly in revenge for the war in Vietnam: a war that, due to Ly's age, he never immediately experienced.
The Broken Country explores how Ly's case may be at the heart of a larger discussion of war's trauma, historical memory, cultural assimilation, and identity: issues that refugees and veterans alike must face when repatriating after war. Through investigative reporting, cultural criticism, oral history and personal reflection, The Broken Country considers the sheer number of people psychologically wounded by violence.
In Ly's tragic story, we might find the fascinating, if controversial, beginnings of a new kind of war memorial: one that draws together the testimony and trauma of war's less visible victims.
Winner of the 2016 AWP Creative Nonfiction Award.
Selection for the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Reading Series
Read reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, New Pages and American Book Review. Read an interview with the APALA. Read a profile in the Salt Lake Tribune, and an interview with City Weekly. Listen to interviews about The Broken Country on Radio West, on Progressive Spirit, on Access Utah, and on Moments with Marianne. Watch an Asian American Writers Workshop TV roundtable reading and discussion titled "Poetry, Data, and Trauma," with Yanyi, Soyoung You, and Jennifer Hayashida.
Intimate: An American Family Photo Album is a hybrid memoir and "photo album" that blends personal essay, historical documentary, and poetry to examine the tense relationship between self, society, and familial legacy in contemporary America. Typographically innovative, Intimate creates parallel streams, narrating the stories of Rekdal's Norwegian-American father and his mixed-race marriage, the photographer Edward S. Curtis, and Curtis's murdered Apsaroke guide, Alexander Upshaw. The result is panoramic, a completely original literary encounter with intimacy, identity, family relations, and race.
Read a review on NewPages.
When you come from a mixed race background as Paisley Rekdal does — her mother is Chinese American and her father is Norwegian– thorny issues of identity politics, and interracial desire are
never far from the surface. Here in this hypnotic blend of personal essay and travelogue, Rekdal journeys throughout Asia to explore her place in a world where one’s “appearance is the deciding
factor of one’s ethnicity.”
In her soul-searching voyage, she teaches English in South Korea where her native colleagues call her a “hermaphrodite,” and is dismissed by her host family in Japan as an American despite her assertion of being half-Chinese. A visit to Taipei with her mother, who doesn’t know the dialect, leads to the bitter realization that they are only tourists, which makes her further question her identity. Written with remarkable insight and clarity, Rekdal a poet whose fierce lyricism is apparent on every page, demonstrates that the shifting frames of identity can be as tricky as they are exhilarating.
Winner of a Village Voice Writers on the Verge Award
ALA Young Adult Books Notable Selection
Read a review from The New York Times Book Review.