literary_canon - English

The Literary Canon
Why Can’t It Include Women and
People of Color?
Okay, So What Exactly Is The
In A briefly nutshell, it is roughly all those
classic books you were ever forced to read as a
kid in high school, junior high or even in
college. You know, plays by Shakespeare,
poems by Robert Frost, maybe a novel by
Nathaniel Hawthorne. Some of it you might
have really liked openly or even thought
secretly (hey this stuff is cool).
Okay, So What Exactly Is The
So what is wrong with the canon? Well, look
around the next time you’re at Barnes and
Noble or you’re watching Oprah and she’s
hanging out with Maya Angelou or Toni
Morrison or promoting some new book. Lots
of people are writing books that are not getting
read even if they are “old” and “good” because
they are not written by the “write” people.
Okay, So What Exactly Is The
Still don’t get it? The Canon in theory is
supposed to take the best literature from all
major genres (poetry, fiction, non-fiction
etc…) and include the work. In theory this
should include women, men and people of
different colors, religions, abilities, races etc…
However too often it doesn’t and the canon
comes across as racist and sexist.
Why Is It This Way?
Good question. One not completely
answerable. When you deal with art (and yes,
literature is creative, people think of it as art),
it comes down to taste (what people like and
what they don’t). Often, academics and other
experts get to choose what is in canon as well.
This means though the canon can change over
time—meaning writers can be added or
subtracted as the case maybe.
For Example
In the 18th Century the writers of this time
period were not fans of William Shakespeare.
They believed his work to be considered trite
and hackneyed.
Now, we consider an 18th Century female,
Aphra Behn to be a genius but this is a late 20th
addition to the canon in the past 20 years or so.
Some people feel that canon needs to be more
flexible and more representative based on all
the cultures writing within a society at a time.
However, some academics feel this is incorrect
and still choose to seek the same guidelines
used continuously when choosing works thus
ensuring a mainly Caucasian and male canon.
This angers some writers, like the famous poet,
Adrienne Rich who feels the canon has now
become a symbol of power to hold over the
powerless as well as cultural prison.
This is ironic because Rich would be a writer
who would unquestionably be in the canon.
Despite being female she has one the Pulitzer
twice as well as every major writing prize for
poetry at least once.
Separate But Equal Canons
Some have gone with the separate but equal
route (canon of Women’s Writers, Hispanic
Writers etc…) while this “specialness” is
helpful if at any point you only want to read
these writers for this amount of time, it is at
some point insulting to only read them in this
Which is why the canon for many needs to