February 28th, 2011 / 8:14 pm


The editors of Copper Nickel, the literary journal at the University of Colorado Denver, have launched Coin, a companion website which mines (forgive me) some of the better work from the literary journal, and presents it alongside ancillary materials (interviews, conversations, essays about the making of stories, etc.) The inaugural issue includes poems from Dan Albergotti, Sandy Florian, Ed Pavlic, and Ginny Hoyle, Snezana Zabic’s essay “Meet Satan,” and, most interestingly, a portfolio of work by and about Michael Copperman, whose story “It” is written, as he describes it, in “black Delta dialect, not reproducing African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) so much as depicting a particular boy speaking it,” although the story’s author self-describes as “a Japanese-Hawaiian Russo-Polish Jew” in his essay “Race, Authenticity, Culpability,” which appears alongside the story.

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  1. Roxane

      That is such a great idea. I would love to see more print magazines doing this.

  2. Michael Copperman

      Thanks so much for the mention, Kyle. I’ll let Jake Adam York at Copper Nickel know, too, that you were kind enough to recognize his hard work in getting “Coin,” off the ground.

  3. Anonymous


  4. MFBomb

      Michael–what a great essay! Thanks for writing it.

      As someone whose work is set in the rural South and often uses dialect, I’ve received similar rejections, and it doesn’t surprise me—“regional” dialect writing has always made the morally upright, bourgeois literati uncomfortable (e.g., Wright vs. Hurston) and continues to be reviled by those on the “realist” and “experimental” sides of the aesthetic spectrum; I often feel like I don’t fit in anywhere—I don’t fit in with the “realists” who advocate a transparent, transcendent aesthetic, and I don’t fit in with many here on this site who seem to favor—for lack of a better phrasing—a kind of cosmopolitan/transatlantic postmodern aesthetic.

      More so than ever before, there seems to be an attempt to whitewash “region” and its markings from contemporary literature, and the rationale is rather simple-minded, naïve, and downright dishonest: “America is more diverse! The South is “new!” America is becoming homogenized!” While these points are definitely true to an extent, they are often exaggerated, and anyone who has spent time in the South knows that there is, um, plenty of “region” left. In fact, I’m actually amazed that I’ve been able to place stories in reputable journals that employ Southern dialect, riffs on Christianity and characters who are—gasp—Christians!—and are populated by grotesque, darkly comic characters and situations.

      I attended an AWP panel in DC on the state of Southern Lit (some of you might’ve attended), and—while I found aspects of the discussion compelling—I noticed that none of the panelists—despite framing the panel around a supposed “new,” “progressive” Southern Lit—discussed 1) African-American writers who are Southern and write about the South (that is, they never addressed the troubling assumption that a Black writer can’t be a Southern writer, an assumption that is often perpetuated by progressives in literary circles as much as it by conservatives in the, Old “I’ll Take My Stand” Southern Renaissance Guard; 2) They overemphasized the “new” “diversity” of contemporary Southern Lit by discussing almost exclusively the topics covered in contemporary Southern Lit while avoiding problems of authorial race, class, and gender–as if somehow white Southern writers writing about race in progressive ways is new, as if Faulkner and Twain weren’t doing this before all of us were even alive, as if Robert Penn Warren didn’t champion Ralph Ellison and “Invisible Man” while breaking from the New Critics. So, I wasn’t surprised when the discussion eventually turned to a “new” kind of Southern writing that “doesn’t reinforce Southern stereotypes” while tackling these tough topics (re: doesn’t tackle tough topics like race, gender, sexuality, etc. with as many darkly comic, absurd, and grotesque situations and employ dialect). This is the same sort of cowardly, middlebrow progressivism that wants art to tackle tough issues without risking offense. Imagine Erskine Caldwell trying to publish “Tobacco Road” today—good luck with that one!

      Anyway, one aspect you didn’t address in your essay is the relationship between Southern Dialect and AAVE–the two are bound to each other, and it’s always interesting when non-Southern readers of my work–including those who fashion themselves as “progressive”–assume that a character is black because he speaks in Southern dialect (without having any other indicators of his race). While there are differences between the two, the similarities abound and the foundation is essentially the same, so it’s possible for a Southern black character “to talk white,” and a Southern white character “to talk black…”

  5. Trdtrd