In Walt Whitman’s famous poem, “Song of Myself,” the speaker challenges the reader’s understanding of the individual by identifying himself as a “contradiction,” a body containing multiple and sometimes conflicting characteristics, stating “Very well then, I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” One hundred and thirty-two years later, poet and scholar Gloria Anzaldúa writes in the foundational Chicanx text, Borderlands/La Frontera, “she operates in a pluralistic mode—nothing thrust out, the good, the bad, and the ugly, nothing rejected, nothing abandoned.” Despite their distance in time, gender, and ethnicity, these two formative American writers represent a tension particular to U.S. literature and culture—how to reconcile individuality and nationalism in a country built on immigration. This talk will explore the role of diversity and multiplicity as a uniquely American literary value through discussion of these writers’ work and their relevance to 21st century U.S. identity politics.
Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the poetry collections, Hands That Break & Scar (Sundress Publications, 2017) and All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014), selections of which were awarded the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship. She teaches creative writing with an emphasis on the recognition of intersectionality and the lived experience of the body. Her scholarship and creative publishing both focus on the constructed performance of race/ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic class in the United States.