Make the Western Canon Great Again!

June 21, 2016 | 11 3 min read


Let me ask you a question, my friends. When was the last time an American won the Nobel Prize? Do you know the answer? It was 1993, and it was an African-American woman! Nothing against African-American women, okay? African-American women, some of them, they’re gorgeous. Perfect 10s. But still, you gotta wonder: 23 years ago, and it was a black lady. Before that, you have to go back to 1976 – and it was a Jewish guy! Now, I love the Jewish people, and we all know the African Americans love me, but seriously, it tells you something when you have to go back to 1962 to find a real American Nobel Prize winner in Literature.

Our literature is slipping, folks. We’re losing our edge. It’s sad. It’s just so damn sad. You know why we’re slipping? Because our colleges are run by politically correct guilty white liberals who hate America. Oh my God, America’s college professors are so dumb. I could have been a professor, okay? Believe me, I’m a terrific teacher. People love it when I explain stuff to them. It’s a gift I have. But why would want to be a professor? Sure, I could sleep with some cute coeds. But think about it: Do you see many college professors married to supermodels? Do you see college professors with personal brands worth $5 billion. No, you don’t. And you know why? Because they’re so dumb.

covercoverYou know how you can tell they’re dumb? From the books they teach. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. The Interpreter of Maladies. The House on Mango Street. Anybody here read The House on Mango Street? I haven’t, either. I’m a businessman worth $10 billion. I don’t read books unless I wrote them, and even then I’m selective. But they’re teaching The House on Mango Street like crazy in English Departments across America – or at least they were in the 1990s, which just goes to show you how current my information is. The author of that book is Sandra Cisneros, who is, I believe, a Mexican. She was born in the United States, okay, but her parents are Mexican. So she’s Mexican. It doesn’t matter where you’re born, not if you’re black or brown. President Obama was born in Hawaii and his mother was a white woman, and yet the man’s Kenyan. It’s so obvious, if you think about it.

Anyway, there she is, this Sandra Cisneros, on college reading lists along with Edwidge Danticat and Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Díaz  and all these other foreigners, and THEY’RE TAKING JOBS FROM AMERICAN AUTHORS. Good, hard-working American authors like Jonathan Franzen and John Irving and Richard Ford. Time magazine, which is, to be honest with you, this close to losing its press credentials with me, but anyway, Time called Jonathan Franzen “The Great American Novelist.” “The Great American Novelist,” my friends, and he can’t get onto a university syllabus to save his life. He’s too “commercial,” they say. He doesn’t play nice with Oprah. And, oh yeah, they never say it because they’re too politically correct, but he’s too white. That’s the real problem with Jonathan Franzen. He’s too white, too male, and too straight. Sorry, Jonathan. Three strikes and you’re out.

We’re going to take back the Western canon, folks. We are going to build a big beautiful wall around books written by white people and we’re going to make the immigrants and the African-American writers pay for it. Foreign writers are eating our lunch right now. We used to dominate the world of letters. The Russians, the Chinese, even the French – they all read our books. We used to be feared and loved around the world. And now look at us. Look who’s winning Nobel prizes these days. Svetlana Alexievich? Patrick Modiano? Mo Yan? I mean, what the hell kind of name is Mo Yan? Is that a guy? A girl? Which bathroom does Mo Yan use in North Carolina? Hah! Ha! Ha! Ha! Damn, I’m funny. I’ve gotta tweet that. But this is serious stuff, folks. These foreign writers are winning the Nobel Prize year after year, and we’re letting it happen. They’re shlonging us and we’re so stupid and lazy and politically correct that we like getting shlonged!

Well, no more.

When I’m President, I’ll ban all books by immigrant writers until we can figure out what the hell is going on with the Western Canon. I’ll ban translations by foreign authors, too. We’ll ban so many books it’ll make your head spin, folks. We’ll empty out the university book stores! We’ll clear whole shelves from the library! We’ll fire all the politically correct professors who hate America! We’ll build piles of books as high as one of my big, beautiful, classy hotels, and we’ll burn them all to ashes!

And when we’re done, my fellow Americans, we will make the Western Canon great again.

(Hat tip to frequent Millions commenter Moe Murph, who supplied the headline for this piece.)

is a staff writer for The Millions and a contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine. His nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Salon, and The Economist. His fiction has appeared in Tin House, December, The Southampton Review, and The Cortland Review. His debut novel, Blithedale Canyon, is due out from Regal House in June, 2022


  1. These easy, obvious Trump articles are so tiresome. They’re the written equivalent of a Jay Leno monologue. Just stop.

  2. It’s a valid analogy. I enjoyed it; however, Trump wouldn’t say, “Sure, I could sleep with some cute coeds.”. He’d say, “Sure, I could sleep with ALL the cute coeds.”

  3. “Be quiet,” he said, strongly and smartly pointing what might or might not be a short, stubby finger at the Annals of Japery. “Just please be quiet. Don’t talk. Please be quiet.”

    Moe Murph
    Enjoying “easy,” “obvious” piece and musing on several outrageous and gratuitous dismissals of authors of color in a ridiculously prickly recent Millions comment section on Ernest Hemingway

  4. Haha love it.

    For context: Anyone confused by the provenance of this article, please see the comments section of Bourne’s innocuous recent Hemingway article, which somehow occasioned a great convergence of embattled white males (EWMs), howling about the unfairness of it all, including a great lamenting of the death of the western canon now that (gasp!) people like Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros are sometimes being taught.

  5. Perfect, let’s bring Hemingway’s race into this comment section too! From now on, whenever I read something I don’t like, I’m just going to dismissively call the author a White Male and go read something that conforms to my pre-existing worldview. Progress!

  6. Gart, you seem confused, both here and in the Hemingway comments, by who introduced Hemingway’s race, or white maleness, into the discussion (hint: it wasn’t Bourne or anyone who enjoyed Bourne’s article).

  7. Vij, I think you’re confused about my confusion. You also seem confused as to why inserting race into discussions that have nothing to do with race would be problematic.

  8. I’m not confused about that at all. You seemed to be responding to my comment (which btw did not mention Hemingway’s race). This whole thing started in the other comment section, with posters seemingly mad about attacks on “white males” in the article when there had been no such thing. It became clear through further posts, that most of this response was from a contingent that seems anti-academy, anti-multiculturalism, and bizarrely paranoid about “white men being depicted as oafish rapists.” Hence this joke article, which does have to do with the Trumpian white guy anxiety that seemed to have taken over the Hemingway thread.

    Does this make sense to you?

  9. Nice try Michael, but you made him sound too smart. Trump would probably go “huh?” if you asked if he understood what the Western Canon actually means.

  10. “That’s the real problem with Jonathan Franzen. He’s too white, too male, and too straight. Sorry, Jonathan. Three strikes and you’re out.”

    Just like everything Trump says, while over the top and stupid, it does contain important truths no one else is talking about. So in that respect, this article succeeds.

  11. MyGod,

    How cryptic. So is it that Franzen is too white, too male, or too straight that keeps him off university syllabi? All of the above? If so, what is it that all the other straight white males on university syllabi offer that he doesn’t?

    I’ll offer that as a college English prof, I wouldn’t dream of teaching Franzen primarily because 500 page tomes containing sententious bloviating about How We Live Now would be agonizing death in any undergrad class room, not because he’s white with a hetero penis.

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