Following reader backlash and protest, the Nation magazine has issued an apology for printing a poem by NEA Fellow Anders Carlson-Wee entitled “How-To”. The editors of the Nation’s poetry section, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Gimenez Smith, said they initially believed the poem was a “profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required to, to perform the work of marginalization.”

It was only after the continued expression of hurt, anger, and confusion from many readers that the editors were forced to consider that perhaps they read Wee’s poem using the wrong lens.

There are fundamental issues with the way that the debate of representation is playing out, especially in literary circles. What we are seeing is that representation is not enough when it comes to simple diversity of mastheads, even when a magazine claims to be leftist like the Nation does. If said representatives of marginalized communities cannot bother to interrogate whiteness and racism and ableism for the trenchant nastiness that they are, they do the literary community no good at their posts.

Much discussion and debate and criticism came to the Nation by way of social media. Award-winning poet Donte Collins, whose arresting collection Autopsy has been selected for consideration by numerous awarding bodies since its publication, posted to Twitter:

Dana Koster argued that the issue in the Nation’s publication of Wee’s poem is an issue that is prevalent all across the literary community in a series of tweets:

Poet and writer Camonghne Felix also issued criticism of a New York Times piece covering the incident that positioned poetry as “an art form starved for attention”:

Wee has also apologized via a Facebook post, which poet Lauren Yates brilliantly turned into an erasure poem:

Clearly, the larger literary community has a long way to go to ensure that the art which it esteems and places value upon is read with a critically discerning eye. How Black and other readers of color will see work must be taken into account, as opposed to only how it is seen and communicated by whiteness.