LA Times Review: “From William Styron to ‘American Dirt’: When is it appropriate to culturally appropriate?”

Paisley Rekdal, a poet and the author of “Appropriate: A Provocation.”(Austen Diamond)

A guy gets ushered out of his prestigious newspaper job for using the N-word, and a different media guy decides to instruct his media workplace about the N-word’s use. A woman writes high-pitched screeds about “cancellation.” A novelist dons a sombrero on a literary-festival stage to mock the idea of literary appropriation. All are white. Such are the culture wars of our moment, with headlines that range from the infuriating to the ridiculous.

Luckily, we also have Paisley Rekdal, a writing professor and poet laureate of Utah. In her new book, Appropriate, Redkal addresses the conundrum of cultural appropriation with patience and care… continued




A timely, nuanced work that dissects the thorny debate around cultural appropriation and the literary imagination.

How do we properly define cultural appropriation, and is it always wrong? If we can write in the voice of another, should we? And if so, what questions do we need to consider first? In Appropriate, creative writing professor Paisley Rekdal addresses a young writer to delineate how the idea of cultural appropriation has evolved—and perhaps calcified—in our political climate. What follows is a penetrating exploration of fluctuating literary power and authorial privilege, about whiteness and what we really mean by the term empathy, that examines writers from William Styron to Peter Ho Davies to Jeanine Cummins. Lucid, reflective, and astute, Appropriate presents a generous new framework for one of the most controversial subjects in contemporary literature.


Paisley Rekdal is the author of ten books of poetry and nonfiction. A former recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, she is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah and is the state’s poet laureate. She lives in Salt Lake City.

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