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My Father Writes Like Me
cap, captain miss america

Some (likely) closing words on the “I Write Like” Meme (apartment photos and general life updates still to come). I just wanted to address some of the key questions I saw raised repeatedly today as the conversation got very large and I wasn’t able to reply to everyone individually.

1) It appears that several new authors were added to the “I Write Like” meme. Confirmed: Margaret Mitchell, Mary Shelley, Stephenie Meyer, Ursula LeGuin, Agatha Christie, David Foster Wallace.

I have not seen or heard anything about any authors of color being added. Which is, as [info]nojojojo said, making it worse, because at this point he’s knowingly being exclusionary, especially since I’ve seen multiple people suggest authors of color to him directly.

2) I have heard multiple reports that he is no longer approving comments from people who question this issue on his blog. However, he said that he will take suggestions with the hashtag #iwlvote on twitter, and he can’t really do anything about people who comment to @iwritelike on twitter.

3) Many people brought up questions about the original included list. Dmitry said to me yesterday in a private email that the list was gleaned from two sources: top bestsellers listed on Wikipedia, and the top downloads list on Project Gutenberg. While those lists are obviously skewed toward white men to begin with, there were female authors and authors of color on both lists who never appeared to be in the meme, which means that there was some editorial choice on his part about which authors on those lists to include– and which to exclude.

4) This is the first time I’ve posted a post of this nature since I started blogging more seriously off-livejournal. It’s interesting to note that while the vast majority of people who responded to this post on livejournal commented in agreement with the concerns I raised, and the people who didn’t approached the subject with honest questions, the majority of (far fewer) comments on my personal blog at Antagonia.net were criticizing my post, and not in a thoughtful or friendly manner, either. It was interesting to me to see the difference.

5) I just wanted to share the email my father sent to the meme’s creator after reading my blog. My father is a middle-aged white man, just in case anyone is curious.

My friends and I were excited to see this enjoyable “game”. However, it became clear that even though your idea is really good , your execution is lacking.

If you want to really provide something more “professional” you simply
should consider:

1. Including more writers
2. Including different ethnic and religious backgrounds. After all, writers style are very much influenced by their surroundings and period beliefs. This is a real reason why their are differing styles
3. Consider other constructive suggestions you have received and better yourself and your product.

Dmitry, inclusion is a key element of success; exclusion is a road to
narrow minded failure.

Good luck and thank you again for your efforts.


Of course, when a man wrote to him, Dmitry wrote back saying “thanks for your suggestions!” Although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that that might be a result of critical mass at this point.

I hope that answers everybody I didn’t get around to replying to. Thanks for your comments and especially for passing on this discussion to others– I think a lot of people only saw one or two results from the meme and didn’t quite realize what was going on with it.

I am still disappointed that this thing is getting national news coverage, though. It’s sort of inspiring me to put some effort in to re-building my meme library once I move. We need a new OTP generator. That doesn’t exclude anybody on any basis apart from “Tea thinks that’s too hard to draw.”

Mirrored from Antagonia.net.

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And that is why criticizing things as silly as an internet meme matters, because the construction of this meme is a result and reflection of that mindset, because there are people teaching our kids these things, and there are people teaching our kids that their voices don't matter, and that certain voices are the only ones that are important, and reduce the rest of us to only being capable of aspiring to reflect those voices.

Edited at 2010-07-16 01:02 am (UTC)

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Can you screencap the comment and send it to his Board of Ed?

So Dickens and Joyce suck? I really wonder WTF this guy is teaching.

My mother just retired from being an English teacher and I'm so glad that where she taught (which is where I went to high school) didn't just do dead, white males. We did a bunch of those (especially in the honours track), but also did plenty of women, people of colour, etc. I think the biggest thing we missed was disabled writers.

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Just an aside, Stephen Hawking and his daughter, Lucy, have a really awesome kids' book called "George's Secret Key to the Universe" which I suspect is appropriate for 6-8th graders.

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Yeah! Also, Helen Keller would be a good author to add, especially since she does write about the experience of being deaf-blind as well as being a female scholar at a time when that was not common.

Helen Keller was AMAZING! I recently visited the museum at her birthplace.

She really, really made a difference all over the world.

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This is the part that bothers me about her. Being a crappy writer is totally okay if you are writing something enjoyable and people are all "yup, it's crap, but I like it."

It's the idea that the ideal relationship is an unhealthy, abusive one that makes me most critical of her.

Mandi, if you can write something with Stephenie Meyers' appeal and pull it off and have the characters have healthy attitudes about love and sex, I will totally be president of your fan club.

Wow, this represents how I feel about Meyer's writing exactly, thank you for putting it into such precise words. It's an enjoyable way to spend a weekend (note the singular), but her writing is abject crap. The way she writes women is degrading, and the way she writes men is chauvinistic, abusive, disrespectful, and NOT what we should be putting out there for young ladies to grow up wanting. L. J. Smith is much better, even if she's older (most of her writing was in the 90s), so is Holly Black--when their characters are acting f-ed up, they get called on it and it actually has consequences. As opposed to "I love you. Stay." "No, I'm bad for you, I'm leaving." "I am sad, delusional and not healthy." "I can't live in a world without you." "No, live." "There is no lasting impact on our relationship, it's as if I never disrespected you." "Let's be together forever." Grrr.

At least it made it more believable that he swiped whatever was on the bestseller list.

I realize this probably isn't fair of me, but I have a sneaking suspicion that his addition of Stephanie Meyer was essentially a "You want women writers well look at THIS you whiners" to everyone who asked for more women writers to be included.

"Women writers? They want me to add more women writers? All the girls like Twilight these days, don't they? Of course they do! ::placate-placate-placate::"

There's not really any other reason to add her, imho :/

Hey, I found this through one of Rober Ebert's tweets. Thanks for writing this all up! I'd chalked up the lack of women in the meme to it just being something small and simple, but the way this guy's outright mocking people who suggest it's unbalanced and still refuses to put in writers of color is really infuriating.

Yeah, it's still distressing to think that it was accidental, because it says something about the way our society elevates certain people and disregards others, but his response really changed my feelings about his engagement with his meme.

As noted on Making Light, this whole thing is essentially a way to shill for a vanity press, which leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I also agree that it's interesting how an attempt to be "color-blind" actually reveals an ingrained way of thinking that is anything but.

Not acknowledging that there really are differences among different kinds of people is taking one's critical facilities out of the equation and letting unconscious preferences and prejudices take over. In this case it's been "distinctive prose style is characteristic only of these famous white male writers" - very likely because he hasn't *read* any of the non-white, non-male writers.

I mean, leaving Virginia Woolf out is crazy if you're really looking for distinct styles - not that the algorithm is all that good. It seems mostly to key on word choices.

Another form of Discrimination

While I completely agree with you on spurious nature of this person's claim that he's being "color-blind" by sticking to the neutral default position of white men, there is another form of discrimination which he is perpetuating and which you have overlooked: His original list only includes GOOD writers.

Let's be honest; I am not a skilled writer. So claiming that I write like Shakespeare or Hemingway is absurd. Oh, sure, he included Joyce and Dickens who, according to one learned English teacher, "suck," but he needs to include more bad writers if he doesn't want to be unfairly discriminatory. And maybe by recognizing the need to include bad writers, he'll be able to justify the need to include women and people of color since he will no longer need to be limited by the "fact" that all of the best literature was written by white men. Finally, he'll be able to include bad writers, even if they happen to be women or people of color.

As a lifelong member of the pale penis society, I think Dmitry Chestnykh may suffer from a certain type of color blindness that a lot of us white men are prone to. Our view is skewed because of the privilege that we grew up in, and the fact that we grew up in "the soup" of European culture and influence. Even the most well intentioned among us don't get it when questioned about how this has effected (affected? I never know) us.
We look at the progress that women and all people of color have made and we think, "Hey! This is great!" Yet we fail to see the subtle ways that white privilege continues to seep into our culture and our work.
If not for my seven year marriage to an African American woman and raising a daughter of color, I might still be relatively clueless about these things. But I have seen through them how subtle discrimination is, and how it continues.
I also had the advantage of taking a lit class that included works by Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Carlos Fuentes along with the usual dead white guys.
I think 'I Write Like' is a fun site, and I was happy to see that when I posted some of my silly blog posts that I got back results from edgy, well-respected writers. It occurred to me to suspect that it's all bullshit, fun and interesting bullshit, but bullshit none the less. It did not occur to me to wonder how many of the authors on the site were women or people of color. That was my white privilege sneaking in, like all of us I am a work in progress.
I'm sorry that Mr. Chestnykh has responded unfavorably to this criticism, and I hope he takes a step back and adds more diversity to the site's authors. I hope that he can understand that these omissions were the unconscious result of his privileged life, and that he will make the necessary changes.
One of the commenters pointed out that Mr. Chestnykh said that "all writers are equal." Great. True, but they haven't had equal lives and experiences. Being the descendant of slaves or raised on a reservation or experiencing racism firsthand will affect (effect?) your writing, and those voices need to be heard and included. The dead white guys are great, but that's a very unbalanced literary diet.
Sorry for the length of this comment, but I have one more thing to add. I also hope that the site will add Nicholas Sparks as an author, and that the program will instantly electrocute anyone whose writing resembles his.

This, absolutely. I'm also white and raised with a great deal of privilege. I honestly didn't notice it, either, at first, until I started playing with the meme a bit more to fool around. My first response was "teehee!" and I think the vast majority of people who played with it probably popped a couple of things in, said "teehee!" and left it at that. I only started to notice when it started to reach critical mass in my own cross-section of meme responses.

And that is the insidiousness of subtle racism and sexism in our world, that many, many people, even people who want to fight it don't notice it because it's a value created by many little things adding up, not a big monster we will always recognize the minute we see it.

To use a decidedly non literary metaphor, I always liken white people's reaction to privilege to the scene in 'The Matrix' when Morpheus gives Neo the choice of the Red Pill or the Blue Pill. Take the Red Pill and you choose to see the effect of the world around, take the Blue Pill and you go back to sleep. Most people in the world don't have the choice of what pill to take, but people of privilege such as me have the choice. Sometimes I see it, sometimes I go back to sleep.
LOVE this discussion by the way.


That is a really good metaphor. And I think sometimes even those of us who fall on the short end of the privilege stick for one thing or another don't realize it every time we're being affected by these kinds of ingrained hierarchies. We're so attuned to these things as "normalcy" that it takes us a minute-- I often step back and realize that something I previously enjoyed is actually pretty sexist.

And thanks! Thanks for your comments here, and I see you're following me on Twitter now, too!

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