Cancellation of a “transphobic” critic | Writing
Steve Braunias edits Newsroom’s books section, ReadingRoom, and is a noted writer at the NZ Herald. He was nominated (alongside ReadingRoom book reviewer Philip Matthews) as Best Reviewer of the Year at the 2022 Voyager Media Awards.
A book review has consequences
A letter inviting the Listener to cancel book reviewer Nicholas Reid attracted over 300 signatures. The extraordinary outpouring of rage against Reid and support for the author who was the object of his scorn, essa may ranapiri, almost certainly resulted in the fastest petition in New Zealand writing.
Reid’s review came out on Monday. Disbelief quickly turned to anger. The letter accuses Reid of transphobia and a “deliberately harmful display of ignorance.” The 842-word letter, written by poet Lily Holloway, says: “We ask that you consider providing a platform for other poetry critics. Reid should not be paid to critique queer works. Transphobia in this review is inappropriate and actively harms the author and the wider queer community.
The criticism was Echidna, ranipiri’s second collection of poetry, published by Te Herenga Waka University Press. The publisher also expressed contempt for Reid. A message on his Twitter account made it public that Reid would no longer receive review copies: “Reid’s attack is vile and unacceptable.”
There are actually two versions of the exam. Reid expanded on his review in the last Listener when he posted it on his blog Reid’s Reader – and it was the extra comment that created the problem.
The longer exam is not, in fact, an exam. Reid doesn’t actually engage in the work or think critically about it. It’s silly writing, mostly concerned with gender and the identity of the poet.
He writes in the version on his blog, “Ranipiri prefers to be referred to as ‘they.’ lips and a dress. Dare I say that I find this usage not only foreign but also confusing? “They” refers to plurality. If I wrote “They wrote this book”, you, like 99% of people, would immediately assume that more than one person wrote this book. That being so, I will not refer in this review to ‘they’ but rather refer to the author as ‘poet’.”
Insulting, archaic, senseless; yet it gets worse. Reid continues to question the title, puts his hands over his ears when he worries that “this collection is beating the drums loudly against colonialism”, and at least bothers to quote two lines from the book, but then saves his worst for the final paragraph when he deliberately contemptuously uses the pronoun “he”/”his” and concludes, “Maybe I just don’t tune in to the circles that Essa May Ranapiri moves in.”
The only circle to which any literary critic should be sensitive is that of the work.
In their letter to ListenerHolloway writes, “It is a deliberately harmful display of ignorance that serves to question the validity of essa’s identity and, by extension, of trans, takatāpui, and non-binary people as a whole. The description of the photo of the author of essa (given the context in which it appears) has been included to further disparage the identity and gender expression of essa… Intentionally using the wrong pronouns for the author when they have been clearly stated is both rude and harmful…[It] reads like a pointed and deliberate attempt to humiliate the author… It would be irresponsible to publish similar criticisms of Reid given the clear and unapologetic bias he has against the queer community.
The review of Echidna appears in a summary of two other books of poetry. And in fact, Reid’s ratings on We are all made of lightning by Khadro Mohamed, and Sonnets for Sio by Scott Hamilton, are models of good review – alert, thoughtful, attentive (Reid is a poet himself) and testament to his long commitment to covering New Zealand books.
Holloway acknowledges that the Listener the review does not contain the personal remarks in the version Reid posted on his blog. So why write to the magazine? What is the Listener has something to do with Reid’s blog? Is the letter misdirected? Holloway argues in their letter to Listener editor Karyn Scherer and book editor Mark Broatch, “This review in its entirety has not been published in your pages, but platform writers who are openly bigoted elsewhere point out that these issues are not important to your post.
“…Given the current climate of transphobic hatred in Aotearoa, it is important that we do everything we can to uplift and show our support for those targeted. This is an example of something tangible that the Listener can do to step up. »
More than 300 people have signed the letter, including authors Elizabeth Knox, Noelle McCarthy, Emily Perkins, Kirsten McDougall, Catherine Chidgey, Brannavan Gnanalingam, Sue Orr, Ashleigh Young and Catherine Robertson, as well as publisher Sam Elworthy, bookseller Carole Beu and writers Emma Espiner and Giovanni Tiso – seem to agree.