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Can reading make us better citizens? This book sheds light on how the act of reading can be mobilised as a powerful civic tool in service of contemporary civil and political struggles for minority recognition, rights, and representation in North America. Crossing borders and queering citizenship reimagines the contours of contemporary citizenship by connecting queer and citizenship theories to the idea of an engaged reading subject. This book offers a new approach to studying the act of reading, theorises reading as an integral element of the basic unit of the state: the citizen. By theorising the act of reading across borders as a civic act that queers citizenship, the book advances an alternative model of belonging through civic readerly engagement. Exploring work by seven US, Mexican, Canadian, and Indigenous authors, including Gloria Anzaldúa, Dorothy Allison, Gregory Scofield, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Erín Moure, Junot Díaz, and Yann Martel, the book offers sensitive interpretations of how reading can create citizenship practices that foreground and value recognition, rights, and representation for all members of a political system.
This introduction provides a rationale for querying and queering the way state citizenship functions. Beginning from a reading of Indigenous author Thomas King’s 1993 short story, ‘Borders’, the introduction offers a justification for rethinking citizenship. Drawing on border studies, queer theory, and political developments at North American borders since 9/11, the introduction shows how reading can translate into civic action that foregrounds recognition, rights, and representation in North America.
Fusing theories of citizenship, postcolonial studies, active reading, and queer theory, chapter 1 offers a starting point in exploring how reading is a powerful tool that can be mobilised in service of civic struggles for recognition, rights, and representation. Since the terms ‘queer’ and ‘citizenship’ may seem paradoxical, this chapter offers a brief history of citizenship theory, before moving on to consider how queer theory and citizenship studies can intersect to consolidate the idea of an ‘act of citizenship’. Finally, it explores the importance of postcolonial theory, active reading practices, and reader-response theory in constituting a civic subject in a participatory democracy, capable of engaging in radical acts of citizenship.
This chapter constructs a relationship between the autobiographical writing of queer lesbian Chicana Gloria Anzaldúa and queer southern writer Dorothy Allison, two queer feminist authors who have not been read alongside each other, despite their work having much in common. Reading these two authors together allows us to begin the recovery of an as-yet unwritten history of radical queer feminism in the twentieth century, mapping linked networks of influence that suggest a burgeoning strand of intersectional feminism that has not yet been examined in existing literary histories of the movement. More broadly, by exposing tangible connections between the experiences of civic marginalisation faced by Chicana and ‘white trash’ communities, this chapter reads Anzaldúa and Allison as having separately but equally theorised feminist spaces and communities for a queered citizenship.
This chapter examines a range of Canadian Métis writer Gregory Scofield’s poetry, exploring his revisionist treatment of the history of the Métis and other Indigenous people in Canada. As it provides a history of the Métis, the chapter also explores the impact of Scofield’s two-spirit queer identification, his codeswitching, and his community work, on his poetry. Writing in Métis and two-spirit vernaculars, Scofield’s hybrid vernacular texts become vehicles for his critique of Canadian citizenship in the case of the Métis.
This chapter explores the performance practice and aesthetic of Mexican-American performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and his performance troupe, La Pocha Nostra. The chapter identifies the queer rasquache elements of Gómez-Peña’s performance pieces and texts, drawing on material from the 1980s to after 9/11. The chapter shows that Gómez-Peña creates an alternative North America by presenting figurative crossings of the US–Mexico border. This alternative nation is free from border concerns and founded on a radically new understanding of citizenship. In allowing his audience entry into this alternative nation state, Gómez-Peña brings together a collective (if temporary) challenge to and re-evaluation of the role of the citizen.
This chapter explores lesbian Canadian language poet Erín Moure’s collection of poetry, O Cidadán. A challenging text, the collection offers a critique of established ideas of citizenship and formulates an alternative narrative of citizenship and community building, with Moure’s figure of the cidadán at its core. Embedded within Moure’s narrative are specific writing and reading practices that challenge the reader to act on the text, constituting the reader as a civic subject within this alternative narrative.
This chapter explores Dominican-American author Junot Díaz’s 2007 novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Reading the novel as a Caribbean text that offers a revisionist history of the Dominican Republic, the chapter theorises how Diaz crafts a ‘dictator-narrator’ in protagonist Yunior, whose presence allows readers to reflect not only on the dangers of dictatorship but also on the transformative possibilities of multilingual, hemispheric citizenship. At its core, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao allows readers to reflect on the hybridity of contemporary American literature, offering routes to conceiving of citizenship as an archipelago of rights and responsibilities, as well as readerly, participatory, and queer.
The concluding chapter begins with an examination of Canadian author Yann Martel’s What is Stephen Harper Reading? book club project, in which he sent literary texts to now-former Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper once a fortnight. This public act of citizenship was intended to expose Harper, who was responsible for CAD 45 million in cuts to arts, culture, and heritage funding, to the importance of literature and the arts. The chapter closes with a reflection of how the texts and authors under study in this book have explored only a few ways in which citizenship can be encountered, acknowledged, critiqued, troubled, and queered by readers who have the power to collaborate in the continuing struggle for recognition, rights, and representation in North America and around the world.