Over 400 New Zealand writers have co-signed a letter calling a book critic transphobic for his review of takatāpui poet Essa May Ranapiri’s new collection ECHIDNA. The New Zealand Listener, who published a version of the review, has responded saying they won’t hire him to review queer works again.
Takatāpui poet Essa May Ranapiri released their second poetry collection ECHIDNA in May.
On Monday July 18, author and critic Nicholas Reid released a review of the collection to his blog with an introduction that the New Zealand literary community have called transphobic.
The introduction reads:
“Essa May Ranapiri prefers to be designated as “they”. This signals being sexually non-binary, as does the poet’s photo on the back cover where the hairy-chested poet is wearing lipstick and a dress. Dare I say that I find this usage not only alien but also confusing? “They” refers to plurality. Were I to write “They wrote this book” you, like 99% of people, would immediately assume that more than one person wrote this book. This being the case I will not refer in this review to “they” but instead will designate the author as “poet”.”
The New Zealand Listener also published the review of the collection in its latest issue, however it did not include this introduction.
Reid has written reviews and published books in New Zealand for decades, and has been running his own review blog for over 11 years.
Ranapiri responded on Twitter, saying:
“Nicholas Reid could have just wrote a review about not understanding a poetry collection that would have been fine, this book is for a specific community, instead he started his review shitting on me and an entire community. No wonder the Listener didn't publish this version.”
Speaking with Re: News, Ranapiri said they thought the introduction was “weird and dismissive” and in line with transphobic experiences they have had in the past.
“I’m perplexed he thought it was appropriate to focus on my appearance and my pronouns when he could have just engaged with the book.”
Ranapiri said they felt hurt as much for their community as for themself.
“I wrote this book for young queer Māori. I thought about them going online and seeing this intro and felt really upset about that.”
In response to Reid’s review, New Zealand poet Lily Holloway has written a letter to The Listener’s editor and book editor, Karyn Scherer and Mark Broatch, highlighting the harm they believe this review creates and asking the magazine to reconsider which reviewers they hire.
Holloway wrote that Reid’s introduction spoke to his “own ignorance, rather than the content of the writing, and has no place in a poetry review.”
Holloway highlighted other instances in the review where Reid used ‘he’ and ‘his’ pronouns when referring to Ranapiri, calling it “rude and harmful”.
“Given the lengths Reid has gone to in justifying his ignorant and unconventional approach to essa’s pronouns, this reads as a pointed and deliberate attempt to humiliate the author.”
Holloway also challenged Reid’s argument that ‘they’ can only be used to reference multiple people, writing that the singular form of they has been found used in English as early as 1375.
“We use the singular ‘they’ consistently in our day-to-day, most prevalently when we do not know the gender or pronouns of the person we are speaking about,” Holloway wrote.
“For example, if one did not know who Reid was, they might ask, ‘Did you hear about that transphobic poetry reviewer? I forget their name but they’ve got some poorly concealed hang-ups about queer people.’”
The letter asked The Listener editors to consider using other reviewers, writing “Reid should not be paid to review queer works”.
“The transphobia in this review is inappropriate, and actively harms the author and the wider queer community,” Holloway wrote.
“Given the current climate of transphobic hatred in Aotearoa (see Bethlehem College, Gloria of Greymouth, and Rainbow Youth Tauranga), it is important to do whatever we can to uplift and show support for those targeted.
“This is an example of something tangible the Listener can do to step up to the plate.”
At the time of writing, the letter had been co-signed by 406 people - including notable authors Catherine Roberston, Elizabeth Knox and Pip Adam.
The letter also includes the name of 58 queer reviewers for The New Zealand Listener to consider for future reviews.
In a comment to Re: News, New Zealand Listener Editor Karyn Scherer said they published the review as it was submitted to them. The version published in the magazine doesn’t include the intro from the blog, which suggests it was not submitted to The New Zealand Listener and was added for the blog verison.
“It appears to me that he [Reid] has been honest about his lack of familiarity with issues that LBGTQIA+ people feel strongly about, so I agree that makes him a poor choice to review works by queer authors. We won’t be using him to review such works in the future.”
Re: News has reached out to Reid for comment, but have not yet received a response. We will update this article when we do.
Ranapiri said it is disappointing this review has shadowed the work of rainbow Māori authors, and asked that Re: also takes the opportunity to highlight the work of queer Māori artists working in Aoteaora.
Here is a small selection of work Ranapiri wished to highlight:
Hana Pera Aoake, A bathful of kawakawa and hot water
Robert Sullivan, Tūnui | Comet
Cassandra Barnett, how|hao
Ruby Solly, Tōku Pāpā
Tayi Tibble, Rangikura
Hinemoana Baker, Funkhaus
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