In one of my college classes, I was introduced to the concept of literary citizenship. My professor encouraged us to be active participants in the literary world. This meant reading and commenting on blogs, buying and reading books and literary magazines, writing book reviews, talking to our friends about books, creating our own content in support of and in conversation with existing literature.
These simple actions helped me develop a sense of belonging and worth that I had struggled to nurture before this point. Before learning and practicing what it meant to be a literary citizen, I had felt like a nuisance and imposter in the literary community. But thinking of myself, and all the other readers and aspiring writers like me, as a vital part of the community emboldened me to claim my place in the literary world. My feedback and support of authors and creators was and is valuable.
These days, I’m taking the things I learned in that class and applying them to new situations.
As a quick side note, a few months back I listened to a This Rhetorical Life episode critiquing the rhetoric of citizenship. That conversation is playing in my mind as I think back on the literary citizenship I learned. I don’t think the term “citizen” is necessary here. The literary world shouldn’t be shrouded in language that connotes governmentality and belonging (citizen) that is countered with unbelonging (alien). You do not need proof of citizenship within any community to be a reader, creator, or lover of literature.
This hesitancy to use “citizen” language forces me to get creative in finding other language that describes active participation in a community. Right now, I’m going to use the word “student” in a setting in which “citizen” might be the first word you reach for.
Over the last few months, I’ve been traveling and thinking about traveling a lot. I spent a week in Memphis in March. Last month I traveled to Germany and Poland. Travel, for me, is fraught with implications of exploitation. I try to approach travel as a student instead of as a tourist. As I wrote about in one of my Memphis blogs, learning about a place before I go there is important to me. My most meaningful trips have been the ones where I studied up on the history, culture, and politics of the place.
This fall, I’m moving to France for ten months. It will be, by far, my longest stay in another country.
I don’t want to go as a tourist, and I won’t be going as a citizen either. Instead, I want to be a student of the place. And just as I found my place in the literary community while practicing participation, I hope to do the same with France. I am learning the language. I want to read up on the history, follow the news, dive into the culture—get invested in this country across the ocean. Learn all it has to teach me, and offer what I can through my interest and involvement.
I’ll try my best to keep you updated as I go, to share with you what I’m learning. But right now, I need your help building my syllabus. What recommendations do you have for French books, films, documentaries, music, or blogs? Merci!