Seventeen autobiographical essays of varying quality that address the authors' experiences ``outside''—as editor Aguero (Humanities/Pine Manor College) puts it—the ``dominant tradition'' of ``white, male, heterosexual, upper-class, Eurocentric'' culture. A number of the contributors fall prey to banality by perpetrating stereotypes they eagerly purport to examine or overturn. Toi Derricotte, a black poet, insists that her light skin ``keeps things, literally, from being either black or white,'' but quickly retreats into a stance of victimhood when she recounts the racial insensitivities of fellow writers at a writers' colony. Far from exploring a unique or multilayered cultural heritage, the mainstream language of self-assertion and self-absorption too often employed here translates into a claim for literary attention: Several authors quote from their own work and relate the progress of their careers. The most successful pieces often approach the question of cultural authority obliquely or not at all. Gary Soto's stark evocation of working at a tire factory with illegal Mexican immigrants is spare, unsentimental, and authentic. Jack AgÅeros's cosmopolitan paean to different breads he has encountered while growing up in N.Y.C. includes a description of one bakery whose ethnic provenance he can't recall. Though the ethnic grandparent unfamiliar with American customs and wisdom is a fixture in several essays, Suzanne Odette Khuri in ``Jiddo: A Portrait'' evokes a much more complex view of the Lebanese grandfather she barely remembers by dovetailing his last years with the descent of Beirut into chaos. There are other accomplished essays here by Norman Paul Hyett, Kiana Davenport, Judith Oritz Cofer, and Garrett Hongo. A mixed bag, assembled under the 'common theme' of the 'relationship between culture and the problem of identity.'
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