DFW & Diversity: Where are we now, and where are we going?

Written by Ándrea Sheridan, Coordinator, Diversity Team

The following was my “application” email to be part of the IDFWS’s Diversity Team. I have edited slightly for the sake of currency, but otherwise, this is pretty much what led me to this place, and this blog. So, nice to officially “meet” you all.

I agree with the Society’s concerns about the Wallace community being predominantly white men.  Postmodernism (or post-postmodernism, or whatever we want to call what we’re working in now) in general seems to be dominated by white men, both writers and critics.  My first academic encounter with Wallace was in a class with Mary Holland, so it was not so clear to me at first until I started doing my own research and realized that she was (and is) the exception, not the rule.  For this reason (and many, many others), I do believe that the examination of Wallace and gender, Wallace and race, are lacking.  I do not see the Wallace community as intentionally exclusionary.  What the Wallace community does have is geographic diversity, which is a significant and important start. Members of the community also come from various academic levels and even non-academic levels, which is amazing in a way; I’m not sure many other author communities can lay claim to including non-academics in the mix.  I find it encouraging that more women are getting involved in the world of Wallace [our Diversity team of six is four women!], and I think that it’s possible to draw in even more diversity by beginning with inclusion in what we write about and discuss. The Wallace and Gender panel at the ALA was a fantastic start, as was the Diversity Roundtable at DFW17, and my hope would be that it would encourage some female scholars to get a taste of Wallace studies if they haven’t already.

This may not be a popular opinion, but I do think that part of encouraging people of color to enter the Wallace conversation would be to invite conversation about Wallace’s failures at crafting and writing about characters of color–which Clare Hayes-Brady has begun in her book, The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace.  Infinite Jest comes to mind pretty significantly—our man did not write in the not-white voice very well. Nor did he write in women’s voices very often following Broom, but I think that this was for a pretty significant reason, which we can talk about later if anyone is interested. Inviting criticism of these shortcomings might be a good place to start to encourage more diverse group of readers and critics. Much of DFW criticism focuses on his genius and talent, but allowing the criticism to…well…criticize would be a good starting point.  While I believe that DFW is at some times incredibly feminist in his views of and writing about women, he’s not so great when it comes to POC.

What is most important, I believe, is diversity of thought and experience.  Getting a more diverse membership will enhance what’s already great about the Wallace community.

Thoughts? Contact us at diversty@dfwsociety.org.

Ándrea Laurencell Sheridan is an Assistant Professor of English at SUNY Orange (New York). She earned a BA in English from Russell Sage College, an MA in Humanities and Social Thought from NYU and an MA in English from SUNY New Paltz. In addition to Wallace, her interests include 21st-century American fiction, metafiction, metamodernism, metamaterialism, metametaism, and her pit bull, Sadie. She is a frequent contributor to HyperReality. She can be found on Twitter @nmn80418.


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