The notion that all classic literature is out-of-touch stories written by old (or dead) straight, white men, is one I’ve heard with increasing frequency. It’s usually in conjunction with the assertion that modern literature is more diverse and inclusive than classic literature, and therefore classics are no longer necessary or valuable to read.
Admittedly, this was something that I used to believe.
I’ve talked before about my feeling on how prevalent this line of thinking is, and how detrimental I feel it is to the sheer number of diverse classics that actually exist. To condense: diverse classics exist. They are still important, and much of the problem in the lack of knowledge on diverse classics rests in how classics are taught and which ones are taught, not because they simply don’t exist.
I think this is important to understand, because when we erase the existence of diverse classics, of the stories written by and about marginalized people and people outside of the Western experience, we are (even if unintentionally) erasing those voices by asserting they were never speaking in the first place. It is as important as uplifting and reading diverse literature today.
SO. Rather than consistently making a post every few months bemoaning a new post or Tweet or YouTube video that ignores the existence of diverse classics and especially non-Western classic literature, I wanted to do something that would bring attention to diverse classics for people who haven’t read them or heard about them, or who might have an interest in classics but don’t feel the literature reflects their values as a reader.
At the moment, the intention is simple: reading one or two classics by authors of marginalized backgrounds or authors of non-Western cultures a month. Here, I’ll talk about the books I’ve read, generally focusing on themes, discussing the authors and their identities, and comparing how representation, especially if it’s through the lens of what we would now consider to be own voices writing, is handled or how it’s changed in literature compared to books written now.
What DYC Is:
- A way to bring a wider awareness to diverse classics and classics of non-Western authors especially for Western readers.
- A way to personally read more diverse classics and encourage other people to read more diverse classics as well.
- A way to challenge the idea that classics aren’t for marginalized people by actively reading and engaging with classics that reflect marginalized experiences or center marginalized and non-Western characters.
- A way to reflect on how representation in the teaching of classic literature can be improved on especially when it comes to encouraging reading classics that aren’t written by the majority.
What DYC Is Not:
- Saying that classics written by Western or non-marginalized writers are bad/not worth reading.
- Saying that classics in general are superior/better than modern literature.
- Saying that people who don’t read classics aren’t well-read.
This is really just all in good fun, and a good companion to doing what I already do as a reader and writer, which is consuming a diverse pool of literature. And, if my adventure through some diverse classics inspires other people to take a look as well, then that’s just a bonus. I’m looking forward to expanding on my own base of classics and exploring books I haven’t yet read.
My July DYC Pick
This month, I’m going to be picking up Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask. Originally published in 1949 and then later in 1958 in English, Confessions of a Mask details the life of a young boy named Kochan, and his struggles with homosexuality in a war-torn Japan. Noted as a reflection of Mishima’s own struggles with sexuality, Confessions of a Mask was praised by James Baldwin upon its American release and continues to be a staple of queer Japanese literature.