As an English major most of my interaction with works of canon (works of literature that are considered to be classics and are actively taught in schools) has been limited to the works of Anglo men who grew up living comfortable lives in their elite circles. In the past, the field often turned a blind eye to POC writers because of a lack of higher education or training that automatically deemed their works “unacademic”. Despite this, writers kept writing and pushed to provide an alternative narrative that would eloquently address the socio-political issues at hand. Here are only three of those writers and the issues they choose to voice:
Stroni was an Argentine woman considered to have been at the forefront of Latin American literature in the modernist period (1900’s-1940’s). She was thought to be controversial for her works of feminist prose that sought to dethrone and protest the notions that came with gender hierarchy. Her poem, “Tu Me Quieres Blanca (You Want Me White)” is a great example of the sociopolitical issues she wanted to address. The poem discusses the unfair double standards women have to endure, how women are expected to be “pure” and “chaste” while men do as they please. She calls out men for their hypocrisy and asks them to find purity in themselves before they demand it of her.
[bf_image id="jrj4p3v9phgk8jkb2znpf6"] Langston Hughes
Hughes is considered a major American poet and a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Early on he decided to act as a kind of historian with his poems, choosing to write about race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and the atrocities and violent acts that were happening against Black Americans. His poem “The Weary Blues” is a great example of how his poetry reflected the cultural despair of the 1920’s. Hughes writes this poem at a time in which European Americans would flood Harlem, and his poem illustrates a black performance artist dimly playing the blues on his piano to what we assume is this audience. Hughes is pointing to the paradoxes of the self: how does the audience come and watch only to return to a racially segregated life? This poem is about the frustration and pain that many were experiencing and is why Hughes is considered one the biggest poets of the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance.
[bf_image id="bkcg7pbv3qz95bnqmhk2q"] Wen Yiduo (Wen I-to)
Born as Wehn Jiahua but writing under “Wen I-to”, his writings made him an infamous Chinese-American modernist poet. He is credited with introducing free verse and modernizing Chinese poetry, but he is most notable for his critique towards the treatment of the Chinese immigrant in the United States; his poem “The Laundry Song'' strongly pays direct attention to this. This poem portrays the disconnect between Chinese immigrants and American elites. He shed a light unto how Chinese immigrants would take on back breaking work like working in clothing factories, living paycheck to paycheck, only to clean the clothes of the same Americans who would treat them poorly. Wen I-to’s poems are metaphoric in the way they show the disconnect from the privileged, and their disconnect as human beings.
[bf_image id="qg3f3c-999qzc-cau58e"] These three poets articulated their poems with clear objectives in mind; to oppose the social constructs that held classism and racism alive and at the top. It's thanks to authors like them who created an opportunity and a voice in a place where voices like there's weren't supposed to be heard that many of us can wholeheartedly pursue a career in the arts, whether it be politically charged or not.