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Q&A: CWILA critic-in-residence Lucas Crawford

Lucas Crawford (photo: CWILA)

Lucas Crawford (photo: CWILA)

In late December, Lucas Crawford was named Canadian Women in the Literary Arts’s 2015 critic-in-residence.

The Vancouver-based poet and educator is the Ruth Wynn Woodward Endowment Lecturer for Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University. He is the author of two forthcoming books: a collection of critical essays, Transgender Architectonics (Ashgate), and a poetry collection, The High Line Park Scavenger Hunt (Transgress Press).

Crawford speaks to Q&Q about trans literature in Canada and his plans for the year.

Why did you decided to apply to become the CWILA critic-in-residence? CWILA construes its constituency and its role very widely. For instance, the organization has a sense that racial justice ought not to be considered separate from gender matters – to wit, CWILA has just wrapped up a call for submissions for indigenous writers. This wide definition of how to address the question of “women” in the literary arts also shows in CWILA’s foregrounding of genderqueer and transgender people. I strongly believe that such literature and movements are often crucial to survival and to creativity.

What do you hope to achieve while in the position? I have two seemingly contradictory goals: first, to highlight transgender and genderqueer literature, and secondly, to shake up the stories of transgender that are starting to settle and cohere in the minds of the public. I hope to get the reading public asking questions like: what stories do I recognize as “trans” and why? What kinds of “trans” literature make me uncomfortable and why? While there are many good things to say about the recent explosion of publicly accessible trans celebrities and pop-cultural artifacts, I fear that much complexity and possibility may be lost if the reading public too quickly or too easily absorbs and assimilates any one version of transgender or genderqueerness.

Do you have any projects underway? The project I’m most excited about is editing folios of transgender and genderqueer literature in Canadian periodicals. In addition, I hope to bring reviews of trans/queer performances or readings into my work, as so much strong literature of this sort occurs ephemerally. I’ll be reading widely in trans and genderqueer lit and will also be working on bringing my forthcoming poetry book to press.

Where do you think Canada stands in terms of accepting trans literature? I would say that the interest and openness to trans literature is there and is growing. Many trans writers are skilled at figuring out where and when they’re welcomed and where they’re not – both in literature and in life. So, while I can say that there are definitely great people working at periodicals and presses in Canada, it’s hard for me to say if there’s an overarching openness to queer, trans, or genderqueer ideas in Canada.

I’d like to underline what folks are calling “the transgender tipping point” of the acceptance into popular culture, which has happened because of the hard and keen work of countless trans and genderqueer people over many decades. Related to this, there’s been an explosion of trans-focused presses in the U.S., including Topside Press and Roof Books. There are lots of reasons to publish in another country, but if I were a Canadian publisher I might get really curious about this transgender brain drain.

Where do you feel we need improvement? I think we need to let ourselves be challenged by authors of all identities who threaten our deeply visceral norms of gender and sexuality. Although our reluctance to engage with such ideas does often manifest as a lack of representation for trans and genderqueer authors, I’d say we need to develop tastes for literature that disrupts our attachment even to categories like trans, cis, queer, and straight. Finally, I’d love to see us recognize that developing such tastes – if it’s to be more than token inclusion – necessitates a broader shift in how one experiences bodies.

This interview has been edited and condensed.