Happened at the Tennessee Williams Lit Festival that I’ve been dying to write about in a way where I don’t have to think too much about it.
So I attended three panels on topics including Women in Lit, Writing Memoir and Race and Lit. The latter were particularly notable to me because one of my FAVORITE WRITERS EVER was speaking and I’d never seen him in person before so I HAD to be there.
I’m going to taper down the dynamics throughout the day and just say that the funny thing happened during the Race and Lit panel with my said favorite writer. He was palpably at ease in this panel whereas earlier in the memoir panel, sandwiched between a few older white women, he looked a bit uncomfortable.
So pressing on: panel included a female writer I had seen earlier in the day who was fantastic. There was also a male artist who was active in the Black Arts Movement in New Orleans in the 60s. Trying to taper…
What ends up slowly but surely happening is that questions asked of the panel are extremely interesting but keep getting dominated by the older artist mentioned above. Super notably: a high school student who attended the panel asked the female writer, in particular, (notably, “I have a question for Berneice…”) a question about feminism and she had about 12 seconds to speak before the older artist swooped in and literally BULLDOZED HER WITH A HUGE RANT on feminism and it was so EXTREMELY uncomfortable. I thought, why is this dude feeling so entitled to answer this question about feminism?!!? But then he kept doing it over and over and over again on EVERY question. I don’t even think he noticed how awkward it was to run over so many questions, especially that one, in a very degrading way, but here goes…
Last question from the audience comes. It’s a white guy in the back row, which is notable because the audience was very mixed and the panel was all black writers. He lifts a foot and rests it on his chair and bows his head silently for a beat.
“So… I’ve been feeling so confident in my writing abilities recently… I’m almost thirty years old…. I’m a white…. Privileged…. Man…. From Uptown…”
*Places hand on face in shame, not even kidding, covering his eyes, looking extremely upset*
“…And… I feel like I can’t write about my life… Until I write poetically on race…. And it’s impact on me….”
“So do you have a question?” The moderator pipes up.
He did the same thing when I asked a quick question–it wasn’t to be particularly rude, but to keep things moving along. This guy was droning on. I don’t know if my …. are impactful enough to quanitfy how much time this was taking. Meanwhile, the panel is just staring blankly, somewhat in confusion and somewhat just awe-struck like, ‘is this dude… Forreal?’ (At least that’s how it looked to me)
“No, I guess I didn’t have a question.” He bows his head, then looks around. And sits.
WHAT IN THE HELL?!!
It was the single most uncomfortable thing I have ever encountered IN MY LIFE. This dude literally went on this ho-hum woe-is-me angst-ridden rant for like five minutes JUST TO TELL THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE THAT HE WAS AN ANGSTY WHITE WRITER.
Part of me even understands what he was *probably* trying to get at, which is “What’s my place to talk about race and not be a douche” but the no shit answer is TELL YOUR OWN STORY, WRITE IT AND FIGURE IT OUT. No one is going to answer that for you. How the fuck does anyone know your story but you?? This dude literally just stood up and gathered all of this attention for NOTHING.
God, it was awkward.