A leading writers advocacy group has booted a renowned poet off the planning committee for next year’s annual meeting because she has been posting the text of the novel “Gone with the Wind” on Twitter in continuous, 140-character increments.
The poet is Vanessa Place, Inside Higher Ed reports. She is a personage famous enough to merit a Wikipedia page.
The writers group is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, which claims to represent some 50,000 and over 500 campus-based writing programs.
Is the group concerned that Place’s tweets infringe on copyrights held by the heirs of Margaret Mitchell? No. Of course not. Don’t be silly.
Instead, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs announced it had canned Place on Sunday after several members expressed their belief that her Twitter project is racist.
Place is white.
In addition to tweeting “Gone with the Wind” in 140 character morsels, Place’s Twitter feed also features a photograph of Hattie McDaniel in the profile photo. McDaniel is the actress who won an Academy Award for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind” in the famous 1939 film.
The artwork in the background of the Twitter feed’s main page is an 1899 sheet music cover called “Jemima’s Wedding Day.”
Here are a couple of Place’s “Gone with the Wind” tweets:
Melley done it beyon' me. De angels fight on her side, Ah specs. Ah'll tell Miss Scarlett de fune'l termorrer but Ah specs Ah better keep h
— Vanessa Place (@VanessaPlace) May 19, 2015
ny chile. Look lak he go plumb crazy w'en Doctah Meade say her neck broke. He grab his gun an' he run right out an' shoot dat po' pony an',
— Vanessa Place (@VanessaPlace) May 14, 2015
The writers association defended the ouster of Place from the planning committee.
“AWP believes in freedom of expression. We also understand that many readers find Vanessa Place’s unmediated quotes of Margaret Mitchell’s novel to be unacceptable provocations, along with the images on her Twitter page,” the group said in a Monday statement.
“AWP must protect the efficacy of the conference subcommittee’s work. The group’s work must focus on the adjudication of the 1,800 submitted proposals, not upon the management of a controversy that has stirred strong objections and much ill will toward AWP and the subcommittee.”
The sacking of the poet came in the wake of a Change.org petition.
“We find it inappropriate that Vanessa Place is among those who will decide which panels will take place at AWP Los Angeles,” the petition states. “We acknowledge Place’s right to exercise her creativity, but we find her work to be, at best, startlingly racially insensitive, and, at worst, racist.”
“Her recent work with ‘Gone with the Wind’ re-inscribes that text’s racism — she does not abate it — in the flesh of every descendant of slaves,” the petition further charges. Thus, the argument goes, she should not have “authority over writers of color.”
The petition does not explain what authority a member of a meeting planning committee might have over any writers of any skin color.
As of late Tuesday night, 2,189 people had signed the petition.
At the same time, Place is not without her defenders.
“Well, I think that when AWP claims it ‘believes in freedom of expression,’ it’s pretty obviously lying,” said novelist and New School creative writing professor Dale Peck in an email to Inside Higher Ed.
Place released a statement on Facebook on Monday. She said she doesn’t typically comment on her artistic work, but is making an exception now to note her belief that “Gone with the Wind” is a “profoundly racist text.” “The book’s true love story is not between Rhett and Scarlett, but white America’s affair with self,” she asserted. With her Twitter project, she wants to demonstrate “the whiteness behind the blackface” of the 1936 novel. “This is a necessary cruelty, and I believe in necessary cruelties,” the tweeting poet explained.