“The single most important development in literature written in English over the past century has been its increasingly international—indeed, global—nature.” Yes, and the massive, multifarious reality of that “development” is just beginning to be acknowledged. Hugh Kenner has brilliantly explored the fruitful tension between British English and the English of Irish writers, the American English of William Carlos Williams, and the international idiom of High Modernism. But there are many other Englishes.
Aside from the signal importance of its theme, two qualities distinguish this collection and make it essential reading. One is exemplary, fulfilling the editors’ intentions; the other is inadvertent and admonitory. Exemplary is the editors’ approach to their subject. In the closing paragraphs of their introduction, Jussawalla and Dasenbrock argue for the value of allowing the writers they interview to “speak for themselves about their work, their politics, and the traditions—both Western and non-Western—that made them who they are.” Instead of coming to these writers with a critical kit already in hand, readers should learn from the work itself how best to approach it—a principle the validity of which is not limited to “writers of the post-colonial world.”
Admonitory is the racism that runs throughout this book—more persistently in the questions and comments of the editors than in the words of the interviewed, though some of the latter join in. In one representative exchange, after Sandra Cisneros has explained that she has an “agenda” when she writes fiction, the interviewer asks: “Do you see that as a difference between minority writers and Anglo writers, white writers?” To which Cisneros replies, “I think that the work of women and minorities and working-class people has spiritual content and political content, and that’s their strength. I really do. I see so much writing by mainstream people that is well written but it doesn’t have anything to say.” Interesting generalizations, are they not? In the same vein are the editors’ repeated assertions that “the good writers in English are increasingly not English and American.”
Each interview is prefaced by a photo of the writer and a brief profile. The introduction to the volume is valuable in itself, providing a provocative overview of English as an international literary language—an excellent starting-point for discussion and debate.