“We Are Not Responsible” was originally published in Harryette Mullen’s collection Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002). Rehearsing and repurposing the standard rules of linguistic engagement, Mullen mines both Roget’s Thesaurus and The American Heritage Dictionary in a study of the logics and limits of our world. In her book, Mullen absorbs the hierarchical and categorical commitment of Roget and registers the editorial history of the American Heritage, which was compiled with the assistance of a democratic usage panel that included poets Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, as well as feminist author and editor Gloria Steinem. Mullen’s writing is a sensual, playful, and heartbreaking demonstration of the constraints of writing and society as much as it is a primer in the art of defiance.

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Harryette Mullen (b. 1953, Florence, AL) is a poet and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she teaches creative writing and African American literature. Her poetry has been hailed by critics as unique, powerful, and challenging. Her collections of poetry include S*PeRM**K*T (1992), Sleeping with the Dictionary (2002), Recyclopedia (2006), and Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary (2012). Mullen has received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005). Sleeping with the Dictionary was a finalist for a National Book Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Recyclopedia won a PEN Beyond Margins Award (2007).