Appropriate: A Provocation

Norton. Feb. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9781324003588. pap. $15.95. LIT
Using the epistolary form, Rekdal (English, Univ. of Utah; Nightingale) tackles the challenging subject of cultural appropriation in writing. She analyzes appropriation in a series of six letters to a person named X, who represents an amalgamation of her students and colleagues who have debated or struggled with this topic. Rekdal examines cultural and subject appropriation in all its manifestations—commercial, ethical, and racial—by exploring poetry and other literary works. She analyzes a variety of writers, including Jeanine Cummins, Percival Everett, Ernest Hemingway, Patricia Smith, and William Styron. Rekdal underscores the shortcomings of the U.S. publishing industry, which remains predominately white and supportive of a system that promotes “marketplace colonialism” where appropriation continues to flourish. Her examination of racial fakes, such as the nonexistent Japanese poet Yasusada (probably the creation of a white American writer), is excellent. Rekdal also points out potential merits of appropriation and warns that privileging identity over talent might create more damage than good. This book asks many thought-provoking questions for students and potential writers to consider. These questions aren’t necessarily answered here, but they should engage the reader in serious reflection about appropriation.
VERDICT Highly recommended for creative writing students or readers interested in this extremely relevant topic.
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