Sherman Alexie is the editor of the 2015 edition of Best American Poetry, an annual anthology that came out this week. One of his choices for inclusion was “The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve” by Yi-Fen Chou.
After being informed by Alexie that his short poem, previously published in a small journal, had been honored with selection, Yi-Fen Chou contacted Alexie to reveal that he wasn’t Yi-Fen Chou, but boring, white, privileged Michael Derrick Hudson of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Hudson explained to Alexie, and in his bio for the anthology, that he had posed as an obscure Asian poet rather than as an obscure WASP poet after his poem was rejected by 40 different journals when it was submitted under his real name. He decided to test his theory that the poem would suddenly seem better to editors if it had a little pro-diversity, cultural bias behind it. He was right. Now two editors had favored it.
Alexie left the poem in the collection, with the poet’s real name, and has been attacked for doing so, from all sorts of angles. Hudson has received criticism as well. Alexie wrote a heartfelt, thoughtful, and self-contradictory explanation of why he thought he did the right thing. Read it, if you can stand it. Also worth reading is Jesse Singal’s essay, inspired by this rhyme-crime, in New York Magazine about bias. His most useful statement—“It can feel threatening to acknowledge that we are all susceptible to bias. The reality is that it’s simply a part of being human”—is wise. Otherwise, he is far too kind to Alexie simply because he was transparent and thoughtful in analyzing his conduct. Transparent and thoughtful Alexie is. He is also wrong.
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