Novelist Jamaica Kincaid offers some #realtalk in response to a question about the role of anger and humor in her writing in a recent interview at The American Reader.
People only say I’m angry because I’m black and I’m a woman. But all sorts of people write with strong feeling, the way I do. But if they’re white, they won’t say it. I used to just pretend I didn’t notice it, and now I just think I don’t care.
There are all sorts of reasons not to like my writing. But that’s not one of them. Saying something is angry is not a criticism. It’s not valid. It’s not a valid observation in terms of criticism. You can list it as something that’s true. But it’s not critical.
You may not like it because it makes you uneasy—and you can say that. But to damn it because it’s angry…. They always say that about black people: “those angry black people.” And why? You’re afraid that there might be some truth to their anger. It might be justified.
I promise you, if I had blonde hair and blue eyes this wouldn’t be an issue. No one ever says, “That angry Judith Krantz…” or whatever.
Kincaid’s honest and on-point comments remind me of the frustration Claire Messud recently voiced in response to a question about how unlikable one of her character is: “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that?” While it’s obviously not true that such questions have never been asked of a white, male writer (leave it to Katie Roiphie to point that out), the subtle sexism and racism in literary coverage and criticism is pretty clear. And as both novelists make clear, what’s so offensive about such criticism–about how “angry” their writing is or “unlikable” their characters are–is that it’s not criticism. These are just inane observations, and their work should be treated as worthy of serious inquiry.