Inappropriate Appropriation

The new Believer has just appeared, providing us the opportunity to remember “Inappropriate Appropriation,” a “nighttime event” put together by the Believer in concert with PEN American Center for the first annual PEN World Voices Festival, held in New York in the spring of 2005. The event was recorded, and a carefully edited transcript appeared in PEN America 7, which was devoted to that festival.

The event convened several writers to consider “the rules of cross-cultural appropriation,” as moderator Rick Moody puts it, noting that these rules seemed lately to have “loosened up a bit.” But Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests that, while literature should have no “rules,” great “sensitivity” is still required to write about others. She recalls “a little blurb on the cover” of a book by Ryszard Kapuscinski “that described it as the greatest intelligence to bear on Africa since Conrad. And I really was insulted by that,” she says, “because it isn’t the greatest intelligence to bear on Africa, and I didn’t think, by the way, that Conrad was particularly writing Africa as Africa was.”

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