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Civic reading practice in contemporary American and Canadian writing

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.

6 Reading for hemispheric citizenship in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao In his 1992 Nobel Speech, Saint Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott theorised Caribbean art as working to achieve the recovery and reconstruction what he called the region’s ‘shattered histories’. As he put it: ‘Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent.’1 Walcott’s comments on the connections between art and history encapsulate the

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
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An act of queering citizenship

1 Reading: an act of queering citizenship The very idea of queering citizenship can be confounding. In an essay entitled ‘Queer Citizenship/​ Queer Representation: Politics Out of Bounds?’ Kathleen B. Jones and Sue Dunlap investigate the idea of what they call queer citizenship, based on ‘the building of a different kind of democratic community’ as one they are unable to define or pin down.1 In exploring US and Canadian literary texts that reflect on the limitations of contemporary understandings of citizenship, this book posits a queering of citizenship using

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
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Why queer(y) citizenship?

Introduction: why queer(y) citizenship? In Thomas King’s 1993 short story, ‘Borders’, readers follow an Indigenous woman and her son as they set off from their home on the reserve and attempt to cross the Canada–​US border that cuts across the 49th parallel. The US border guard does not allow them to cross into the United States because the mother declares their citizenship as Blackfoot and not ‘Canadian’ or ‘American’. The pair attempt to return and are not allowed to cross into Canada for the same reason.1 Despite attempts by border guards on both sides to

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship

5 The antianaesthetic and ‘a community of readers’ in Erín Moure’s O Cidadán Each of the previous chapters has discussed how the work of a ‘peripheral person’ can be mobilised to push readers to blur the boundaries of the status and performance of citizenship, enacting a queering of the concept. I have explored how Anzaldúa and Allison create alternative queer communities of belonging, while Scofield and Gómez-​ Peña use, among other strategies, synecdoche as a device to position the reader as occupying the place of the ‘other’ (whether singular or plural

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
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Yann Martel’s lonely book club

drawn from the author’s ‘What is Stephen Harper Reading?’ project. 174 Crossing borders and queering citizenship If the authors and works discussed in previous chapters may have at times seemed to deal with the civic act of reading more figuratively, this chapter offers an exploration of a concrete way that reading can function as a civic act in what I have called the queering of citizenship. Where the writing of Gloria Anzaldúa and Dorothy Allison theorises abstract or fictional spaces of queer belonging, Gregory Scofield’s and Guillermo Gómez-​Peña’s poetry and

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship

3 Métis and two-​spirit vernaculars in the writing of Gregory Scofield Writing from the peripheral positions of hybridity at the US–​Mexico borderlands and white poverty in the United States, Gloria Anzaldúa and Dorothy Allison’s feminist autobiographical acts offer readers models for intersectional queer communities of belonging beyond the bounds of state citizenship. Across the 49th parallel, Canadian Métis poet Gregory Scofield similarly disrupts the relationship between the status and performance of citizenship, writing poetry that calls the notion of

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship

4 Performing the border and queer rasquachismo in Guillermo Gómez-​Peña’s performance art Where Gregory Scofield’s negotiation of the practice and habitus of citizenship in Canada is focused on the Métis, a group whose rights and identity have been debated and unjustly dismissed for centuries, this chapter recrosses the 49th parallel and returns to the border between the United States and Mexico, the site that features most prominently in work by Mexican-​ American and self-​ identifying Chicano performance artist and cultural theorist Guillermo Gómez-​ Peña

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship

literature.3 36 Crossing borders and queering citizenship Gloria Anzaldúa and Dorothy Allison’s writing in many ways anticipates the work of Scofield, Gómez-​Peña, Moure, Díaz, and Martel, and serves, among other functions, as a reminder of the long-​ standing importance of treating reading as a civic act of queering citizenship. As I note in the Introduction, Anzaldúa’s work in Borderlands/​La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987) galvanised the field of border studies, and she is read most often for Chicana nationalist and queer feminist engagement with the US

in Crossing borders and queering citizenship
A Session at the 2019 Modern Language Association Convention

“Interventions” was the organizing term for the presentations of three Baldwin scholars at the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago in January of 2019. Baldwin’s travels and activities in spaces not traditionally associated with him, including the U.S. South and West, represent interventions of a quite literal type, while his aesthetic and critical encounters with these and other cultures, including twenty-first-century contexts of racial, and racist, affect—as in the case of Raoul Peck’s 2016 film I Am Not Your Negro—provide opportunities to reconsider his work as it contributes to new thinking about race, space, property, citizenship, and aesthetics.

James Baldwin Review