Feb 24, 2016
“We’ve Been Out Here Working”: Diversity in Publishing, a Partial Reading List
“We’ve been out here working,” writer Syreeta McFadden tells Brooklyn Magazine, and she’s right. Who gets to tell a story (as well as how and to whom) has been contested in the United States since before its founding. (See: The controversy-strewn publishing history of Phillis Wheatley, our country’s first black and second female published author.) This conversation’s roots are centuries deep and impossibly broad and this is a good thing: It’s a very important subject. Collected here is a very partial reading list from as early as 1965 to as late as last month, arranged from most to least recent. (The bulk of these 60-plus essays and surveys and articles have been published since 2007.) They have all done, and continue to do, the work—whether they make plain or complicate, quantify or narrate.
“Fighting ‘Erasure’” by Parul Sehgal, New York Times Magazine | February 2, 2016
‘‘’Erasure’’ refers to the practice of collective indifference that renders certain people and groups invisible. The word migrated out of the academy, where it alluded to the tendency of ideologies to dismiss inconvenient facts, and is increasingly used to describe how inconvenient people are dismissed, their history, pain and achievements blotted out. Compared with words like ‘diversity’ and ‘representation,’ with their glib corporate gloss, ‘erasure’ is a blunt word for a blunt process. It goes beyond simplistic discussions of quotas to ask: Whose stories are taught and told? Whose suffering is recognized? Whose dead are mourned?”
“How Chris Jackson Is Building a Black Literary Movement” by Vinson Cunningham, New York Times Magazine | February 2, 2016
“Despite [Jackson’s] success, he still senses a certain condescension within the industry. ‘I’m sensitive to that,’ he says, ‘people treating me like I’m here by their grace in some way, that they are welcoming me to something that I helped build.’
“This power—the power of the unvarnished truth—is what is at stake when we talk about the problem of exclusion in the world of books. What believable version of American reality can be the product of an industry that, according to a recent survey, counts black people as just 4 percent of its employees? We can admit that race is not our only national reality without denying that it clarifies the workings of—and relations among—the others. A kind of American Rosetta Stone.
“‘I want to protect the writer, of any race, from the dishonesty of racism, and how it can inflect any kind of work,’ he said. ‘And, for writers who are trying to challenge the pandering of the white gaze, if you have to go through a series of gatekeepers who are uniformly white, you’re going to end up with something that’s’—here came a considered pause—‘it’s going to be tough to preserve the integrity in the end.’”
“Diversity in Reviews: Behind the Scenes with SLJ’s ‘Gatekeeper’” by Kiera Parrot, Reading While White | February 2, 2016
“But there’s another question that’s much harder to answer: How are our reviews doing? Are our reviewers better equipped to recognize and articulate positive and negative elements within text and illustrations? Are they spotting stereotypes and critically examining literature for bias? Are we, the review editors, doing everything we can to help support our reviewers in this essential work? Are we shining a spotlight on excellent titles from a diverse array of authors and illustrators? These questions are much trickier to answer. And they still keep this review editor up at night.”
“Speaking up against systemic racism in the publishing industry” by Courtney Milan, her website | January 29, 2016
“Just look at that sentence. Kirkus Reviews published a piece admitting that, with only a tiny number of exceptions, they don’t review romances except those written by white authors.
This isn’t about who is nice and who is mean. It’s about a fundamental injustice that is being dealt, over and over, to people of color, to queer authors, to disabled authors, to religious minorities, to trans authors–authors who don’t want a leg up; they just want the same chances.”
“Dear Scholastic” by Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children’s Literature | January 25, 2016
“I’ve seen a lot of smiling Indians in children’s books that send the same message that the illustrations of smiling slaves send to readers: It wasn’t that bad. Your statement tells me you know it was bad. Indeed, you called it evil, as you should. I agree. Slavery was evil.
The same is true about colonization and the genocidal policies of the early colonists and later, the men embraced as ‘Founding Fathers.’ I hope that your statement is an indication that you’re convening meetings within the Scholastic offices and you’re going to withdraw other books, too.”
“Writing a Wrong: U.S. publishers shunned books about important African-Americans for decades because of racism” by Arthur Brown, New York Daily News | January 9, 2016
“In 1904, a publisher invited Du Bois to write a biography of an African-American. Du Bois proposed Nat Turner, leader of the 1831 slave rebellion that had terrified white Southerners and had prompted states across the region to impose even stricter limitations on blacks.
Du Bois’ planned book would have focused ‘the attention of intelligent white readers and historians on much that was unfamiliar,’ wrote Lewis. Instead, the publisher steered Du Bois to a biography of John Brown, white leader of a doomed slave rebellion, depriving America of a work that, as Lewis put it, ‘might have been something of an event in historiography as well as biography.'”
Facebook post by Marlon James | November 25, 2015
“I’ve mentioned this before, how there is such a thing as ‘the critically acclaimed story.’ You see it occasionally in certain highbrow magazines and journals. Astringent, observed, clipped, wallowing in its own middle-style prose and private ennui, porn for certain publications. And I knew from early on how to write the kind of story that would get published. Honestly, had I followed that formula (or style?) if I pandered to a cultural tone set by white women, particular older white female critics, I would have had 10 stories published by now.”
“The real censorship in children’s books: smiling slaves is just the half of it” by Daniel José Older, The Guardian | January 29, 2016
“If free speech groups feel the need to cry censorship about editorial decisions, there are many, many stories of slavery that don’t feature smiling enslaved people or white saviors in the rejected folders of the 79 percent white publishing industry that they could start with. They could look into the even wider array of stories about our anger, our resistance, our power, that have never made it out of the slush pile, let alone to the shelves of major bookstores.
“You can’t cape for white supremacy and call yourself a free speech activist. White supremacy has silenced more voices than the movements fighting for people of color ever could. American literature, dating back to its very roots, is incomplete and steeped in racist clichés because the publishing industry, as Arthur Browne put it in the Daily News, ‘cast most African-American life stories into oblivion.’”
“Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results” by Jason T. Low, Lee and Low | January 26, 2016
“We have ample data to confirm what many readers have always suspected: the number of diverse books published each year over the past twenty years has been stuck in neutral, never exceeding, on average, 10 percent.
“Countless panels, articles, and even conferences have been dedicated to exploring the causes and effects of this lack of diversity. Yet one key piece of the puzzle remained a question mark: diversity among publishing staff. While the lack of diversity among publishing staff was often spoken about, there was very little hard data about who exactly works in publishing.”
“11-year-old Jersey girl launches #1000BlackGirlBooks” by Brandon Baker, Philly Voice | January 25, 2016
“’I told her I was sick of reading about white boys and dogs,’ Dias said, pointing specifically to ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’ and the ‘Shiloh’ series.”
“The Diversity Myth: Where Have All The Black Editors Gone?” by Vanessa Willoughby, Book Riot | January 18, 2016
“I know what they’d say: We only pick the best people for the job. We didn’t have any minorities apply. We just want someone who fits into our work culture, regardless of race. These are all lies, fairy tales, and fallacies to deflect the issue. Some would like to argue that the lack of Black editors is not the fault of the industry itself, that the low turnout is simply a reflection of the overall tastes of Black people. They find convenient excuses to hide behind like titanium armor, refusing to believe that the current model rewards those who have the privilege to access (internships, a liberal arts institution with a hefty price tag, industry networking) deemed necessary to even earn an entry-level position. It’s not that Black people aren’t interested in literature or adding their own contributions. Rather, it’s the people in positions of power, the so-called gatekeepers, the all-white publication mastheads, and their reluctance fueled by either ignorance or racism or some combination thereof, that effectively derails both opportunity and career mobility.”
“Equity in Publishing: What Should Editors Be Doing?”, PEN America | 2015
ALEXANDER CHEE: Diversity as an editor begins with your friends, your teachers, and your books. What rooms are you in? What conversations? Who are the people in your social media feeds? When you go home, is your family all white? When you go to a party, are your friends all white? When you look down your bookshelf, are all your books by white authors? Those are some tests. What people call diversity has always been, to me, my life. And so if your tastes are not diverse, your life may also not be. And if you find a result you don’t like in all of this, then you work on it.
MORGAN PARKER: More than once, editors have asked me to guest-curate issues of their magazines, and more than once, these editors have cited my connection to “communities” as their reason for approaching me. “We’re trying to be more diverse,” they’ve said. “You seem to be more plugged in than us,” they’ve said. “We don’t know where to start.” “Only white writers submit to us.” I’m a bit tired of hearing the word “trying.” It’s one of those words you hear so much it loses its meaning. I’m not at all surprised that Alexander’s been asked the same kind of questions, but I don’t applaud these editors in the way they, I think, expect to be applauded for this “effort” of outsourcing editorial responsibility. They’ve identified a problem, which is great, but it isn’t nearly enough. They want to be validated (“I’m doing the right thing, right Morgan?” “You know I’m a white person who means well, right?” “I’m trying.”), which, while understandable in the current climate of call-out culture wherein the very basis and structure of the publishing world is finally being loudly shaken, isn’t my job.
As everyone here has already lamented, the state of diversity in the publishing industry—both across writers and editors—is bleak. It’s almost as if we’re starting well below zero.
“White Debt” by Eula Biss, New York Times Magazine | December 2, 2015
“I read several hundred pages of Little House on the Prairie to my 5-year-old son one day when he was home sick from school. Near the end of the book, when the Ingalls family is reckoning with the fact that they built their little house illegally on Indian Territory, and just after an alliance between tribes has been broken by a disagreement over whether or not to attack the settlers, Laura watches the Osage abandoning their annual buffalo hunt and leaving Kansas. Her family will leave, too. At this point, my son asked me to stop reading. ‘Is it too sad?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I just don’t need to know any more.’ After a few moments of silence, he added, ‘I wish I was French.’
“The Indians in Little House are French-speaking, so I understood that my son was saying he wanted to be an Indian. ‘I wish all that didn’t happen,’ he said.”
“On Pandering” by Claire Vaye Watkins, Tin House | November 23, 2015
“I was under the impression that artmaking was apart from all the rottenness of our culture, when in fact it’s not apart from it. It is made of it.”
“80 Books No Woman Should Read” by Rebecca Solnit, Lit Hub | November 18, 2015
“Of course I believe everyone should read anything they want. I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty. Or they’re instructions in the version of masculinity that means being unkind and unaware, that set of values that expands out into violence at home, in war, and by economic means. Let me prove that I’m not a misandrist by starting with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, because any book Paul Ryan loves that much bears some responsibility for the misery he’s dying to create.”
“The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey 2015: A Younger Workforce, Still Predominantly White” by Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly | October 16, 2015
“If publishers are indeed recruiting a new generation of employees, they do not appear to be hiring minorities. The share of survey respondents who identified themselves as white/Caucasian was 89 percent in 2014, the same as in the previous year.”
“There’s a New Movement in American Poetry and It’s Not Kenneth Goldsmith” by Cathy Park Hong, New Republic | October 1, 2015
“Mainstream media rarely pays attention to writers of color unless there’s a white villain like Goldsmith, Michael Derrick Hudson, or Vanessa Place attached. But there is a richer story—and though it’s chaotic, fractious, and at times internecine and irritating—it is the story relevant to now about the growth of a movement that is shifting the paradigm. The hierarchy of the poetry world is being challenged.”
“This Is How You Become an Editor” by Mensah Demary, Catapult | September 24, 2015
As a black literary writer and editor—rare combination indeed—I am usually the only black person in any given room I walk into now, certainly the only black man in many instances. So I must flood these spaces to which I now belong with people who look like me, who want to “do what they love.” I feel on display. I am in full view. I am seen. I stand out. I cannot hide. And so I stand. I feel alone, but I’m not alone. I believe in the people who’ve helped me. I believe in the black young writer I have yet to help, but will—as soon as he finds me.
“The Program Era and the Mainly White Room” by Juliana Spahr & Stephanie Young, Los Angeles Review of Books | September 20, 2015
“Zoe Rana Mungin, an MFA student at UMass Amherst, published an open letter about being one of two black students in her program. She described a workshop where, despite the teacher’s attempts to open a conversation about racial micro-aggressions on campus, her classmates still erupted in shouting and crying when Mungin discussed the racial bias she’d experienced in discussion of her own work. As she says, ‘But let’s be real: this isn’t the first racist thing that’s happened to me in this class or in this program. Someone has told me that they don’t want to be in workshop with me because even though I’m a good writer, I write about black people.’”
“You Will Ignore Us at Your Own Peril” by Mira Jacob, BuzzFeed | September 17, 2015
“What I have found out again, and again and again, with every piece I publish: American audiences are capable of so much more than some in your industry imagine.”
“They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” by Jenny Zhang, BuzzFeed | September 11, 2015
“I couldn’t enjoy a scrap of validation or wallow in a sliver of self-doubt without someone interjecting some version of ‘You’re so lucky. You’re going to have an easier time than any of us getting published.’ They were shameless about their envy, not shy or coy at all about their certainty that my race and gender were an undeniable asset, which, in turn, implied that I could be as mediocre and shitty as I wanted and still succeed. This was how some of my white classmates imagined the wild spoils of my literary trajectory. This was how they managed to turn themselves into the victims.”
“We Need Diverse Diverse Books” by Matthew Salesses, Lit Hub | August 31, 2015
“I know a Korean-American author who was told that an editor could not buy his book because the house already had a Korean writer. This was echoed by journalist Sharline Chiang, who had a book rejected because the editor said they ‘already [had] a China book,’ one that happened to be ‘about growing up during the Cultural Revolution’ when Chiang’s was about an Asian American writing about Beijing in 1999 and 2000. Author May-Lee Chai told me that an agent rejected her first novel because the writing was ‘nothing like Amy Tan.’”
“What’s in a Number” by Camille Rankine, Nat. Brut | August 22, 2015
Nobody likes quotas, but I pointed out that it could be helpful for an editor or reading series curator to keep an eye on their numbers, to take that kind of systematic approach to their work. At least then they wouldn’t end up with the all white roster or table of contents that I see all too often. My fellow poet, a white man, and an editor for a small press, made a face. “I’d much rather the diversity happen in a more organic way,” he argued. “People can sense when it’s not genuine.”
“What Is Literary Activism?” by Amy King, Harriet | August 2015
Partly through my work with VIDA and partly due to listening to writers of color, I am as of late far more keenly aware of the optics of situations and publications and politicizations—and I very much want to counter the idea that a) a white person is always the trusted authority on a concept, especially an evolving one related to activism that many have been doing, in varying capacities, far longer than I have, and b) no one person should be the final authority on articulating a set definition or set of rules for what literary activism might entail. In other words, like most activism, literary activism must certainly include a range of ideas and actions and voices, even if some contradict or go against others.
❏ WHAT ARE YOU PROTECTING
❏ WE WANT TO HEAR YOU SAY IT
❏ IF IT MEANS SO MUCH TO YOU THEN SAY THE WORDS
❏ JUST SAY “I NEED WHITENESS TO SUCCEED/SURVIVE”
❏ JUST SAY “I NEED WHITENESS BECAUSE MY IMAGINATION IS DEAD”
❏ SAY “I NEED WHITENESS TO TELL ME MY WORK IS GOOD ENOUGH”
“The Politics of ‘Blind Submissions,’” by Apogee staff, Apogee Journal | July 28, 2015
“Publications must reconsider the practices designed to create fairness and non-bias, and investigate those biases central to the judgment of ‘literary merit.’ One strategy is to enshrine conscientious reading into your editorial guidelines. Apogee’s guidelines stipulate that accepted work should portray marginalized protagonists and characters in multi-dimensional ways; challenge mainstream stereotypes; and engage with and interrogate the status quo in the literary mainstream, and in society more broadly, either in content or through form.”
“Stop Pigeonholing African Writers” by Taiye Selasi, The Guardian | July 4, 2015
“The Scottish-born novelist Aminatta Forna has asked why her novel The Hired Man, set in Croatia, is sometimes found in the “African section” of bookshops. What of Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy Snow Bird, set in New England? (Oyeyemi is British; her family moved to the UK when she was four.) Or Teju Cole’s Open City, much of which takes place in Manhattan? Are these African works?”
“Authenticity Obsession, or Conceptualism as Minstrel Show” by Ken Chen, The Margins | June 11, 2015
“If Goldsmith appropriated Michael Brown’s body, then Vanessa Place has appropriated black appropriation. If Goldsmith concluded with Michael Brown’s male member, then Place’s appropriations obsess over stereotypes of black femininity—she is, you might say, intersectionally racist.”
“The Worst Kind Of Groundhog Day: Let’s Talk (Again) About Diversity In Publishing” by Roxane Gay, NPR | May 28, 2015
“Narrow reading is a less passive activity than some will claim. As a writer and critic, I am not just bored with this conversation. I am sick of it. I have written these sentences before. I will write them again. Discussing diversity in publishing is the worst kind of Groundhog Day.”
“The Student of Color in the Typical MFA Program” by David Mura, Gulf Coast| April 21, 2015
“The white professor and the white students start with the assumption that none of the white people in the class are racists or consciously or unconsciously subscribe to any elements from an ideology of white supremacy. To challenge this assumption is treated as blasphemy, as an act of aggression.
“Therefore the white professor and the other white students will feel at some level that they too are being critiqued by the student of color.
“Given this feeling of threat and given their investment in the racial status quo, on a conscious and/or an unconscious level, the whites in the class will react to the student of color’s critique of the racial bias in the white student’s piece with fear and anger and outrage.
“Thus, the white professor and members of the class will begin to feel antipathy toward the student of color making the critique. The student of color will be deemed, either silently or vocally, as a troublemaker, as someone who is overly sensitive, as paranoid.”
“The Radical Vision of Toni Morrison” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, New York Times Magazine | April 8, 2015
“Morrison wanted to not only broaden the tastes of the industry, she also wanted to change the fate of a literary culture that had to either diversify or die. She told me that the books she edited and wrote were her contribution to the civil rights movement. By publishing black geniuses, she was also forcing the ranks of the big publishing houses and the industry to become more hospitable to her point of view, to the idea that a black writer could write for a black audience first and still write literature. She was more humanist than nationalistic, more visionary than didactic, but to some extent her editorial work was political. ‘We don’t need any more writers as solitary heroes,’ Morrison said in her 1981 keynote address at the American Writers Congress. ‘We need a heroic writer’s movement: assertive, militant, pugnacious.'”
“Self-Portrait of the Artist as Ungrateful Black Writer” by Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed | April 3, 2015
“You can make yourself crazy simply by paying attention. The publishing industry on which my work depends is 89% white. And so, when one of those white people puts their hands in my hair, it’s difficult for me to speak up in the moment, or even months later, because I want to have a career, not just one book. I suspect there are limits to the literary elite’s willingness to tolerate an insistently “angry black writer” in their presence. Writers who speak out too loudly, too often will never be told explicitly “you’ve bitten the hand that feeds you” but there are so many ways to starve.”
“BuzzFeed Launches Emerging Writers Fellowship: An Interview with Literary Editor Saeed Jones” by Lincoln Michel, Electric Literature | April 2, 2015
SAEED JONES: One day, centuries from now, a famous historian—I’m picturing a sharp-witted black woman because I sincerely believe black women are from the future— will look back and say, “I can’t believe they used to expect young writers to move to one of the most expensive cities in the world and work for free so they could learn how to become better writers.”
Creating meaningful diversity in media will take time and tremendous effort. When I say “meaningful diversity,” I’m talking about hiring brilliant people from diverse backgrounds, covering or publishing work that speaks to a multiplicity of experiences, as well as having diversity throughout the company from the interns up to the board room. A newsroom that has zero people of color one week then five people of color the following week is a better newsroom. But better isn’t the same as good.
Writers of Color, a database by by Durga Chew-Bose, Jazmine Hughes, Vijith Assar, and Buster Bylander | April 2015
“Don’t you hate when editors use ‘I don’t know enough writers of color’ as an excuse to back up the homogeneity of their publications? We do too. Here’s a fix.”
“The Limits of Diversity” by Jennifer Pan, The Margins | March 12, 2015
“Yet the publishing industry remains a bleakly apt example of how increased representation does not necessarily confer material benefits. The same PW report that found the publishing industry to be mostly white also found that while women constituted a clear majority of the industry—74 percent of its workforce, to be precise—they continued to suffer a significant gender pay gap, earning only 70 percent of what their male colleagues did. And so it seems unlikely that increased racial diversity alone will be sufficient to ensure fair pay, equal treatment, or the dwindling of the economic barriers (such as unpaid internships and low entry-level salaries) that have long made careers in publishing available primarily to the educated and affluent.”
“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Author” by Aminatta Forna, The Guardian | February 13, 2015
“So where should a bookshop shelve a novel set in Croatia and written in English by a Scottish Sierra Leonian author? Over the years I have posed the question of classification to many writers about their own work and the answer is invariably the same: in bookshops, fiction should be arranged in alphabetical order.”
“The Pain of the Watermelon Joke” by Jacqueline Woodson, New York Times | November 28, 2014
“This mission is what’s been passed down to me — to write stories that have been historically absent in this country’s body of literature, to create mirrors for the people who so rarely see themselves inside contemporary fiction, and windows for those who think we are no more than the stereotypes they’re so afraid of. To give young people — and all people — a sense of this country’s brilliant and brutal history, so that no one ever thinks they can walk onto a stage one evening and laugh at another’s too often painful past.”
“Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde” by Cathy Park Hong, Lana Turner Journal | November 7, 2014
“[Poetry critic Marjorie] Perloff sets up an opposition that’s far more disconcerting: oddly, the hegemony has become the nameless hordes of ‘African Americans, other minorities, and post-colonials’ while ‘us,’ those victimized students who are searching for endangered ‘true’ literature (read as ‘white’) are the outliers (since when has Ulysses taken a nose-dive from the canon’s summit down to the rare-and-hard-to-find-books list?).”
“Beyond ableism and ignorance: disability and fiction,” interview with Kayla Whaley, by Danielle Binks, Kill Your Darlings | September 30, 2014
WHALEY: I’m particularly pleased that you asked about ‘varied’ portrayals and not only ‘positive’ ones. I think that’s a point that doesn’t get made often. There are innumerable disabled experiences, not one single authoritative experience. It’s critical that we have varied portrayals, that we show young readers that their experience of disability is valid, no matter what that experience looks like. We can’t and won’t be satisfied with a handful of books, because that paltry amount simply cannot contain the stories that need to be told.
We see this a lot with any form of diversity in literature, the idea that if a publisher has one book with a [insert marginalized identity] protagonist, that’s it. Roster’s full. Which is patently ridiculous, not to mention harmful, because it reaffirms that those characters are ‘other’, ‘different’, ‘the exception’, when in our lives we are the default. We must challenge what society sees as the default, and having many, many stories with disabled characters is one way to do that.
“Hatred of Publishing: A Conversation Between Industry Dropouts” by Jennifer Pan & Sarah McCarry, Full Stop | May 29, 2014
SARAH MCCARRY: When people ask me why I left the industry for good, I always think back to a single moment—we had sent out a young adult novel set at a summer camp whose narrator happened to be Vietnamese, and a rejection came back with, verbatim, “We already have a book about an Asian kid at summer camp.” That was the moment, for me, when I understood I couldn’t do it.
Certain people are allowed to point out these problems—white women, myself most emphatically among them, and men of color to a lesser extent—when in fact it’s women of color who started this conversation, and who are consistently ignored by the mainstream flareups of this conversation that happen (especially within young adult publishing) every, I don’t know, six months to a year.
“MFA vs. POC” by Junot Díaz, The New Yorker | April 30, 2014
“I remember one young MFA’r describing how a fellow writer (white) went through his story and erased all the ‘big’ words because, said the peer, that’s not the way ‘Spanish’ people talk. This white peer, of course, had never lived in Latin America or Spain or in any US Latino community—he just knew. The workshop professor never corrected or even questioned said peer either. Just let the idiocy ride. Another young sister told me that in the entire two years of her workshop the only time people of color showed up in her white peer’s stories was when crime or drugs were somehow involved. And when she tried to bring up the issue in class, tried to suggest readings that might illuminate the madness, her peers shut her down, saying Our workshop is about writing, not treating people with respect. As always race was the student of color’s problem, not the white class’s.”
“Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing” by Daniel José Older, BuzzFeed | April 17, 2014
We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism.
Maybe the word hasn’t been invented yet – that thing beyond diversity. We often define movements by what they’re against, but the final goal is greater than the powers it dismantles, deeper than any statistic. It’s something like equity – a commitment to harvesting a narrative language so broad it has no face, no name.
“Flibbertigibbet in a White Room / Competencies” by Simone White, Harriet | April 2014
“So, although I was drinking in the harmless way that I drink (maybe I had 2 beers), I felt inexplicably drunk and frustrated by the impossible whiteness of the room I found myself in. Let me say again: I am used to being the only black person in the room. It happens all the time and has happened all the time since I was a little, 10 year old pigtailed thing stuck in a tiny private girls school in Chestnut Hill. But the fact is, being used to being the only black person in the room isn’t the same thing as thinking that this is a tolerable or reasonable condition. Even when I was 10, I knew (or was told repeatedly so I better know) that this was something to be tolerated and managed, like a nasty variety of mold. I do not enjoy it any more than I enjoy any other condition that is a scourge and ought to be eradicated.”
“Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?” by Walter Dean Myers, New York Times | March 15, 2014
“Books did not become my enemies. They were more like friends with whom I no longer felt comfortable… Then I read a story by James Baldwin: ‘Sonny’s Blues.’ I didn’t love the story, but I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map.”
“The Apartheid of Children’s Literature” by Christopher Myers, New York Times | March 15, 2014
“The mission statements of major publishers are littered with intentions, with their commitments to diversity, to imagination, to multiculturalism, ostensibly to create opportunities for children to learn about and understand their importance in their respective worlds. During my years of making children’s books, I’ve heard editors and publishers bemoan the dismal statistics, and promote this or that program that demonstrates their company’s ‘commitment to diversity.’ With so much reassurance, it is hard to point fingers, but there are numbers and truths that stand in stark contrast to the reassurances.”
“Broader, Better Literary Conversations” by Roxane Gay, The Nation | September 9, 2013
“In the selection of 2012 reviews I looked at from the LARB, only one book written by a black woman received coverage. It was the Highlander of reviews. There can be only one.”
“You Are the Second Person” by Kiese Laymon, Guernica | July 17, 2013
“You got your first edit letter from Brandon Farley in July of 2012. In addition to telling you that the tone of the piece was far too dark and that you needed an obvious redemptive ending, Brandon wrote, ‘There’s way too much racial politics in this piece, bro. You’re writing to a multicultural society, but you’re not writing multiculturally.’
“You wondered out loud what writing ‘multiculturally’ actually meant and what kind of black man would write the word ‘bro’ in an email.”
“Why Hasn’t the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen Years?” by Jason T. Low, Lee & Low | June 17, 2013
DEBBIE REESE: I think that if we were to do a count of books by not-Native people that are marketed as being about American Indians (like Susan Cooper’s Ghost Hawk), or that feature Native people in some way (like Meyer’s Twilight or Mickaelsen’s Touching Spirit Bear and its sequel), we’d find quite a lot of books.
For my own area of knowledge . . . America/Americans love “Indians” of a certain kind. For some, it’s like a fetish. Because they adhere to the bogus images in books like those above, they find books about real Native people boring. If we don’t walk on water, they’re not interested in us. They don’t care to know what sovereignty is or means. They want vision quests and the like.
So books that you and I want to promote—those that accurately reflect Native peoples—especially of today, are at risk! I hate, hate, hate to even write those words, but I think they are true.
“Dalkey Archive response to that job advertisement” by Laurence Mackin, Irish Times | December 13, 2012
“The advertisement was a modest proposal. Serious and not-serious at one and the same time. I’ve been swamped with emails (I wish they’d stop: I’ve work to do), and with job applications. I certainly have been called an ‘asshole’ before, but not as many times within a 24-hour period.”
“Any of the following will be grounds for immediate dismissal during the probationary period: coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on the weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes; violating company policies. DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above.”
“We Are Many. We Are Everywhere.” by Roxane Gay, The Rumpus | August 2, 2012
“There are a great many writers who are not on this list. That is the point of all this. You cannot possibly list every writer of color working today. We are many. We are everywhere. The world of letters is far more diverse than the publishing climate would lead us to believe. You only need to open your eyes and open your mind. I challenge everyone to pick five (or more) writers from this list with whom you are not familiar, look up their work, see what these writers are about.”
“Where Things Stand” by Roxane Gay, The Rumpus | June 6, 2012
“Race often gets lost in the gender conversation as if it’s an issue we’ll get to later. …As I considered this problem, I had no proof, though, and when it comes to confronting inequities in representation, people want proof. They won’t just take your word that the sky is falling. They need to see the sky shattered, on the ground. And even when you do have proof, people will try to discount your findings.”
“Why the Submissions Numbers Don’t Count” by Danielle Pafunda, VIDA | March 6, 2012
“Historically, an editor’s job has been to actively engage writers, to search out the new, bring the under-acknowledged into the light, remind us of those talented souls who’ve fallen off the radar, and discover the next big thing. It’s one of the perks, it’s fun.
“The very editors who cry no quotas when the pie charts boldly declare the disparity then insist they’re tied to a quota system determined by their own slush piles.”
“The Others” by Porochista Khakpour, Guernica | November 1, 2011
“As the ‘Iranian-American’ ascended as an entity in the ’00s, the discourse churned out by seemingly intelligent American outlets often had the cultural cachet and anthropological depth of a slightly browner Not Without My Daughter. When was the last time you saw a book by an Iranian author that did not feature on its cover a Persian carpet, pomegranates, faux Middle Eastern arabesque fonts, or a woman in some sort of headscarf? Big publishing and mainstream media in the U.S. seemed just as eager as the Islamic Republic to cast highly photogenic women in veils-and-lashings tearjerkers; they relegated their writers, particularly women, to victim ingénues. Yes, these are true stories, but only one type of story, which is particularly frustrating when so many others remain untold.”
“Open Letter: A Dialogue on Race and Poetry” by Claudia Rankine, poets.org | February 4, 2011
“When asked what his thinking was while working on the poem, my colleague said this poem is for white people. Did he mean it was for white people to see themselves and their thinking? He did not say that. He said it was for white people.”
“Dear Claudia, a Letter in Response” by Tony Hoagland, poets.org | February 4, 2011
“Let me say that I think my poem ‘The Change’ is not ‘racist’ but ‘racially complex.’”
“A Profound Sense of Absence” by Roxane Gay, HTML Giant | December 3, 2010
“This year, though, Best American Short Stories really outdid itself. Almost every story in the anthology was about rich or nearly rich white people to the point where, by the end of reading the book, I was downright offended. I know people will disagree with my thoughts here and that’s fine, but I really think shit is fucked up in literary publishing.”
“The READ: Franzen Fallout” by Ruth Franklin, New Republic | September 7, 2010
“My colleagues at Double X have crunched the numbers, and it’s official: The New York Times really does review more fiction by men than by women. Far more. Over about two years, from June 29, 2008 to August 27, 2010, the Times reviewed 545 works of fiction—338, or 62 percent, were by men. During that period, 101 books got the ‘one-two punch’ of a review in both the daily Times and the Sunday Book Review—72 of them were by men.”
“All the Sad Young Literary Women” by Chris Jackson, The Atlantic | August 20, 2010
“I was going on about some novel I was reading and loving and she cut me off and asked, when was the last time you read fiction by a woman? And I honestly couldn’t come up with anything for a few minutes.
“The real bias may be inside of us, as readers, and we might have to force ourselves out of them to take advantage of these new opportunities.”
“Wallace Stevens After ‘Lunch’” by Major Jackson, Harriet | February 2008
“I was living in Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, NH at the time and thought it fitting to start with his letters which were on a shelf near my writing desk. But my initial search in the book’s Index revealed no Gwendolyn Brooks, indeed no black person at all did Mr. Frost ever correspond nor made the subject of at least one of his letters: no Langston Hughes, no Countee Cullen, no Melvin Tolson, no Margaret Walker, no James Weldon Johnson, and no Claude McKay.”
“Scandal” by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, Wicazo Sa Review | Spring 2007
“Native populations in America are not ‘ethnic’ populations; they are not ‘minority’ populations, neither immigrant nor tourist, nor ‘people of color.’ They are the indigenous peoples of this continent. They are landlords, with very special political and cultural status in the realm of American identity and citizenship. Since 1924, they have possessed dual citizenship, tribal and US, and are the only population that has not been required to deny their previous national citizenship in order to possess US citizenship. They are known and documented as citizens by their tribal nations.”
“On Black Artists” by Toni Morrison, Portland State University | May 30, 1975
“It’s important to know who the real enemy is and to know the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing YOUR WORK. It keeps you explaining over and over your reason for being.”
“The Uses of the Blues” by James Baldwin, Playboy | 1969
“People talk to me absolutely bathed in a bubble bath of self-congratulation. I mean, I walk into a room and everyone there is terribly proud of himself because I managed to get to the room. It proves to him that he is getting better. It’s funny, but it’s terribly sad.”
“The All-White World of Children’s Books” by Nancy Larrick, The Saturday Review | September 11, 1965
“Across the country, 6,340,000 nonwhite children are learning to read and to understand the American way of life in books which either omit them entirely or scarcely mention them. There is no need to elaborate upon the damage—much of it irreparable—to the Negro child’s personality.
“But the impact of all-white books upon 39,600,000 white children is probably even worse…There seems little chance of developing the humility so urgently needed for world cooperation, instead of world conflict, as long as our children are brought up on gentle doses of racism.”
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