The Vanishing Act

I have been thinking of ways in which writers have vanished—the way they have vanished themselves from the literary world and from the world itself. I have been thinking, specifically, of how writers who have experienced marginalization have left either because they could not manage to make their voice, their language, cohere to the major language or because, though perhaps they could conform and assimilate, they chose not to.

I am also thinking of writers who have been vanished by being excluded, as voices who do not fit nicely into the current trends. It's not possible to think about these things without recognizing the power structures at work and the work of gatekeepers. Writers whose experiences lie outside the white, middle class experience (the experience of most of the gatekeepers) cannot transform and become something they are not in order to be seen and heard.

In graduate school the feedback I received from students and teachers was that I was incomprehensible. Later, I was called "feral." The way I understood this was that my working class and bi-racial background were "too wild," which made my writing too wild, and that in order to be "got," I needed to be tamed. It was a different kind of assimilation than the one my father, the child of Mexican immigrants, went through—but in many ways, it was the same. In order to be seen or heard, we were told we needed to let go of who we were in our essence. If we wanted to be acknowledged, we needed to become something we never were.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.