(photo: Erin Aubry Kaplan website)
Last week, Erin Aubry Kaplan came to LMU to speak to the English Department about her writing and her career. Kaplan began working mostly as a columnist, but says that she became more of a “first person journalist.” Kaplan’s writing started to include her own personal stories combined with the bigger stories of her community. When she wrote about the Los Angeles riots in 1992, she says that she felt like a representative. She felt like it was her mission to write for her people and her place – as a journalist, she was their advocate.
In writing her personal essays, Kaplan looks at the bigger picture of the situation she is in, and tries to determine her place in that picture. For her, the “personal is always the political.” Kaplan described this concept when discussing her essay called, “The Butt.” In the essay, Kaplan writes about her butt and the large presence, literally and not, that it has in her life. Being a black woman has a lot to do with the way that Kaplan views her own body and how others view her, as well as other black women. In the essay she says, “I am acutely aware that my butt means different things in different contexts. At a private screening at a theater along the Beverly Hills strip of Wilshire Boulevard, at a gallery opening at the Westside Pavilion, I can wear tight-fitting clothes with impunity. If the largely white crowd is looking, it is doing so discreetly, between bites of salmon tarts.” By discussing her butt, she is talking about something both personal and political.
I thought that Kaplan’s perspective of journalism today was interesting and very true. She said that media has lost perspective, and discussed the concept of imbedded journalists. These reporters who go abroad to be “imbedded” during war do not connect any dots for their viewers – instead, they become a PR person. There are restrictions on what they can report on, so they create a picture of the situation that someone else is dictating.