The Writer’s Union of Canada, which publishes the quarterly magazine Write: The Magazine of The Writers’ of Union of Canada, just issued a public apology online after one of their editors, Hal Niedzviecki, wrote an article in Write magazine titled, “Winning the Appropriation Prize,” in defense of allowing non-Native writers to “write what you don’t know.”
The article, published in an issue dedicated to highlighting Indigenous issues, has led to the resignation of Hal Niedzviecki.
In an official statement on the Writer’s Union of Canada website, John Degen, the Executive Editor writes:
“The Writers’ Union of Canada deeply regrets the pain and offence caused by an opinion article in our member publication, Write magazine. The Writer’s Prompt piece offended and hurt readers, contributors to the magazine and members of the editorial board. We apologize unequivocally. We are in the process of contacting all contributors individually…”
The editor of Write magazine has resigned from his position, and the Union has accepted his resignation.”
The controversy was first brought to light on Twitter by Write contributor Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora), who wrote an article titled, “On Seeing and Being Seen: Writing with Empathy,” which appeared in the same issue.
— Alicia Elliott (@WordsandGuitar) May 9, 2017
After receiving her copy of the magazine, she said she was outraged at the article by Niedzviecki, who also served as editor on her own submission.
“Hal Niedzvieki, the editor of Write, accepted my pitch and then edited my essay. Then just yesterday I pulled the issue of Write out of my mailbox and saw Hal’s editorial. I was sitting on my couch with my daughter, who’d just come home from school. I normally don’t read editor’s comments first, but the title, Winning the Appropriation Prize, made my CanLit bullshit radar go off. I hoped it was a satirical piece. It wasn’t. I was so angry I was shaking. I felt like I was going to throw up… After that, I posted to Twitter and it went from there,” wrote Elliott.
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Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, (Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Saugeen Ojibway Nation) who is Publisher and Managing Editor at Kegedonce Press, says she was also contacted by the editor of Write.
She explained to ICMN in an email, “The editorial by Write magazine editor, Hal Niedzvieki, coming as it does at the start of an issue that is supposed to feature Indigenous writers, completely undermines and attempts to silence those voices and the intent of the issue, which I understood was to provide a space for Indigenous voice and perspectives.
“Given that several of the writers are emerging writers in the early stages of their careers and that they, like other Indigenous writers in the issue, spoke about the importance of Indigenous voice and the harm of appropriation and silencing, the editorial, which called for an ‘Appropriation Prize’ for writers and encourages writers to appropriate another ‘culture’s myths, legends, oral histories, and sacred practices,’ is particularly galling, harmful, and offensive.”
“Winning the Appropriation Prize,” by Niedzvieki, includes the following:
I don’t believe in cultural appropriation. In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities. I’d go so far as to say that there should even be an award for doing so, the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.
My writing advice is in opposition to that traditional axiom. I say: Write what you don’t know. Get outside your own head. Relentlessly explore the lives of people who aren’t like you, who you didn’t grow up with, who don’t share your background, bank balance and expectations. Set your sights on the big goal: Win the Appropriation Prize.
Elliot says she regrets having contributed to the issue and asked the magazine where she could return her payment for the article.
“If I knew Hal’s opinion on cultural appropriation was going to be introducing my work, I never would have written for the magazine,” wrote Elliott.
“It feels like a sick joke designed to undermine all the Indigenous writers that were naive enough to believe they’d be respected in this issue.”
Neither the Writer’s Union of Canada nor Hal Niedzviecki has returned ICMN’s request for comments.
Niedzviecki is a Toronto-based author of the 2016 novel, The Archeologists, in which residents of the fictional edge city of Wississauga discover bones of the first inhabitants in their city. His 2009 novel, The Peep Diaries, was selected by Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine as one of that summer’s must-read books. He is also a frequent contributor to Canada-based publication The Globe and Mail.
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