Sunday, May 06, 2007

Does Authorship Matter?

When considering my syllabus for this past semester, I wondered if I included enough women and minority writers. I teach three novels, two of which were Ernest Gaines' A Gathering of Old Men and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, so I had the feeling I had given minority writers a voice (sadly, this semester I did not teach David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, an omission I don't plan on making again). I teach many works by women writers (including works with obvious feminist themes like "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "Trifles"). But I still felt there might be a lack of women writers.

But then I looked at the works by men that I taught. Lysistrata is a play primarily about women's role in society. King Lear is a play I first read in a Women in Literature course, so it clearly has issues of women involved. When reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, we talked about misogyny. When reading Death of a Salesman, we talked about Linda's role. Over and over again when reading books of either male or female authorship, we examined the roles of women in the works and the perspectives of women in the works.

I should add that in my literature course, I barely discuss the author at all. I focus the class primarily on the text, the text, the text (and the reader's experience with the text). I do recognize that the perspective of the writer matters: Aristophanes may give women a voice in Lysistrata, but it is still a man's voice in the woman's mask.

But if we're talking about the roles and perspectives and issues of minorities and women in the works, how important is it that the actual writers be minorities and women? I ask this not in a canonical sense (I do think more minorities and women need to be read and taught), but in a pedagogical sense. For the purpose of my class, for the students' experience with the text and the ideas, for their reading and our discussion, does authorship matter?

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