Radio Hour: Debating Vanessa Place's 'Gone with the Wind' Controversy

June 4, 2015

Conceptual Poet Vanessa Place has ruffled some feathers in the literary world as a growing number of people have taken notice of her latest project, in which she has been tweeting the entirety of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind juxtaposed with provocative images of mammy characters. Place says her goal is to point to the racism in the text, but a petition rallied together many voices who found the project itself to be "at best, startlingly racially insensitive, and, at worst, racist." Recently the Assn. of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) removed her from the selection committee for next year's annual meeting, and this year's Berkeley Poetry Conference, where she was scheduled to speak, has been cancelled in response to protests.

On our program this week we try to make sense of what we feel is a very complicated issue. Does the racism lie in Mitchell's original work, or in Vanessa Place's re-creation? What responsibilities, if any, does one have to contextualize their art or make it more sensitive? Does the fact of her being white make the project more insensitive? And how do we think about her dismissal from the AWP and the canceling of the Berkeley Poetry Conference, which this year was celebrating a 50-year anniversary of the Free Speech Movement?

We'll hear from Vanessa Place to try to better understand her meaning, and we'll also hear from two writers, Matthew Shenoda and Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, both of whom are critical of Place's work.

*NOTE for our podcast listeners, the LARB Radio Hour can now be downloaded as a separate podcast. After a few weeks the LARB Radio Hour will no longer appear in the LA Review of Books podcast.*

Featuring Tom Lutz, Laurie Winer, and Seth Greenland. Produced by Jerry Gorin.


LARB Radio Hour airs every Wednesday at 8 p.m. on KPFK 90.7 Los Angeles.