Spotlight on LGBTQ AWP Panels: Shame as a Driver of Marginalized Female Narrative Unreliability

In the lead-up to AWP 2019 we’re highlighting a few LGBTQ panels that we think you’ll enjoy. Make sure to get out your planners, calendars, or apps and add these to your schedule!

We spoke to Candace Walsh about a really awesome panel she was a part of setting up. Candace is a writer and editor. She is writing a novel, but also loves writing essays and wrote Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity (Seal Press) and edited Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write about Leaving Men for Women and its sequel. She completed her Master’s in fiction from Warren Wilson College in January 2019 and is from New York, but lives in Sante Fe.

Read more below.


candace
Candace Walsh

WHAT’S THE PANEL: The panel, “Shame as a Driver of Marginalized Female Narrative Unreliability,” is Saturday, March 30 from 3-4:15 p.m., in E141-142, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1. We’ll be talking about how intersectionally marginalized female characters have to contend with shame from the outside (the dominant, othering culture) and the inside (when it’s internalized). The more writers are conscious about these dynamics, the more they can represent these authentic forces as part of what complicates and provides conflict in their characters’ lives.

We’ll take a close look at how shame shows up in Gore’s and Menéndez’s fiction, as well as in Zadie Smith’s “Crazy They Call Me” and Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. We’ll share about how to use craft elements to depict shame in various expressions, to reveal subtle truths that would otherwise go untold.

The panelists include Ariel Gore and Ana Menéndez. Ariel Gore also lives in Santa Fe but is originally from California. Her impressive oeuvre includes the novel We Were Witches, the memoir The End of Eve, Bluebird,  How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, and Atlas of the Human Heart. Given the conference location, I should also note that she edited Portland Queer: Tales of the Rose City.

Coming out is of course significant, but then there’s everything that follows.

Ana Menéndez is the author of four books of fiction: In Cuba I Was a German ShepherdLoving CheThe Last War, and Adios, Happy Homeland! A former Fulbright Scholar in Egypt, she has worked as a teacher and reporter in the U.S. and abroad. She is now a program director at FIU in Miami. She was born in Los Angeles, and grew up in Miami, where she currently lives.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO CREATE THIS PANEL: I’d been studying the work of scholar Kaye Mitchell, who writes about shame in literary fiction, including her article “Cleaving to the Scene of Shame: Stigmatized Childhoods in The End of Alice and Two Girls, Fat and Thin,” published in Contemporary Women’s Writing. It made me think about how the so-called unreliable narrator is a frequently discussed trope in contemporary literary fiction. Fiction writers may assign a variety of motives and rationales to default privileged unreliable narrators, from pathology to an overactive imagination … but what about the marginalized unreliable narrator? Missing in this discourse is how the stakes of truth-telling vary according to the privilege/intersectional marginalization of the individual or character. An intersectionally marginalized individual’s privilege deficit can cause the act of speaking truthfully to prevent employment, increase downward mobility, or engender violence.

A salient manifestation of privilege is being unaware of marginalized others’ challenges, and a disinclination to see the world from their perspectives.

Marginalized people are more vulnerable to experiencing trauma, which affects memory. As Rebecca Solnit writes in The Mother of All Questions, “Trauma disrupts the narrative of a life because it shatters memory into shards that will not be recognized as a credible story, sometimes even by the teller — thus some survivors of rape and other atrocities emerge with fractured stories that are seen as signs of their unbelievability, unreliability, untrustworthiness.”

A salient manifestation of privilege is being unaware of marginalized others’ challenges, and a disinclination to see the world from their perspectives. This (sometimes) willed unawareness is a bulwark of oppression, maintained when privileged people decide marginalized people are unreliable narrators of their own lives. As a queer Hispanic woman who often unintentionally passes as straight and white, I aim to make people aware, harnessing literature’s power to convey truths that might otherwise be sidestepped. It brings to mind Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell all the truth but tell it slant —” which both evokes unreliable narration and acknowledges the need for and power of indirectly stated truths.

WHAT CAN WRITERS/AUDIENCE MEMBERS EXPECT: I’m hoping people will leave the panel feeling energized and informed about this topic, empowered to apply the concepts to their own writing, and also, to the way they read marginalized characters and see how it plays out in the world around them.

As a queer Hispanic woman who often unintentionally passes as straight and white, I aim to make people aware, harnessing literature’s power to convey truths that might otherwise be sidestepped.

WHAT OTHER LGBT TOPICS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE AS PANELS IN THE FUTURE: I’d love to see a panel that digs into the pervasiveness and perniciousness of the “one story” so many readers, agents, and editors expect queer writers to deliver: the coming out story. Coming out is of course significant, but then there’s everything that follows. This expectation demands a suspension of character development and denies the wholeness and complexity of queer lives. I actually almost pitched this as a panel for 2019, but then, the shame panel just came together very smoothly, and that felt alluring to me, too, so I went with it.

SHARE A FUN FACT WITH US: A few years after I moved to New York City, I was hired to be a wardrobe assistant for the KD Lang video “Sexuality.” I wrote about it here: bit.ly/kdlangandme.

WHAT BOOK HAS INSPIRED YOU RECENTLY: One of my Warren Wilson MFA supervisors, Lan Samantha Chang, recommended that I read The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, the book the movie Carol was based on. I grudgingly agreed to do it; I was worried that it would be dated and have a tragic ending. But it blew me away. I ended up writing six craft essays about it, and two were accepted by Craft Literary: craftliterary.com/2019/01/22/walsh-price-of-salt-i/ and craftliterary.com/2019/02/19/walsh-price-of-salt-ii/.

I also taught my graduate residency class about alternatives to male-gaze-based characterization of women in fiction, using examples from The Price of Salt.

This expectation [of the ‘one story,’ the ‘coming out story’] denies the wholeness and complexity of queer lives.

WHAT BOOK OR AUTHOR’S WORKS DO YOU KEEP RETURNING TO: I reread Nora Ephron’s Heartburn every 10 years or so. What a perfect book. The voice of the narrator is so distinct and evocative — and funny.

IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY SUPERPOWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE: I’d love to be able to wave a magic wand and manifest enough cash so that my family and I could live comfortably while I wrote novels and essays full-time.

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