Friday, November 20, 2009

Are Writers of Colour Damaged?

Just read this post at Brooklyn Arden which references an article in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, then read Zetta's response. I'm adding my contribution to the discussion here, rather than on either of those posts, because it is rather long to be a comment . . .

Historical white supremacy does not excuse current publishing houses from actively seeking AND NURTURING work from writers of colour. I know Brooklyn Arden's post has this disclaimer, but it needs to be said again.

Editors have been known to acquire books that need ground-up revisions from writers in whom they see "promise." And, since white writers are published in far larger numbers than writers of colour, most of those "promising" writers tend to be white.

I find it hard to believe that "fully formed" writers of colour have been so irreparably damaged by historical white supremacy that our writing shows no promise, whatsoever. And that, unless you catch us in grade school or high school, we'll likely live with that damage for the rest of our years.

I find it harder, still, to believe that an editor who would take a manuscript through several rounds of ground-up revisions with a white author wouldn't find a promising writer of colour that s/he could make similar ground-up revisions with.

And I find it almost impossible to believe that writers suffering from the long-term impacts of historical male-supremacy, historical hetero-supremacy, and other kinds of historical oppression, haven't, likewise, been so irreparably damaged.

Some of the most poignant, powerful writing comes from those who've suffered unimaginable transgressions, from people whose lives have been torn and blasted in many ways, sometimes for generations. And editors take the heart-wrenching stories of these survivors--these *thrivers*--and help the writer shape these stories into works of beauty.

The pain and suffering of people of colour is *always* on the pages of our writing--whether we are writing romance, humour, fantasy, or contemporary realistic fiction. There is no escaping it because it is fused to our genetic make-up through history, culture, socio-economics. But finding editors and agents who stare at that pain with unflinching compassion, and a burning desire to be part of the solution . . . well, that is a rare find, indeed.

5 comments:

zettaelliott said...

good point, Neesha---does our writing have to be perfect? does it really show no promise? why can't the pain of racism inform our perspective without leaving our work "flawed" or not up to snuff?

Olugbemisola (Mrs. Pilkington) said...

"The pain and suffering of people of colour is *always* on the pages of our writing--whether we are writing romance, humour, fantasy, or contemporary realistic fiction. There is no escaping it because it is fused to our genetic make-up through history, culture, socio-economics. But finding editors and agents who stare at that pain with unflinching compassion, and a burning desire to be part of the solution . . . well, that is a rare find, indeed."

just had to repeat that.

Karen Strong said...

Great post, Neesha.

I've often wondered if writers of color are climbing a steep hill because they lack the nuturing of their work. Makes me wonder even if "perfect" manuscripts have a chance to make it over the transom.

Doret said...

I was thinking about this at work today and I got upset.

I can't even name the number of first time White YA authors published this year.

Though I will put money on it that there are no more then 10 first time Black YA authors published this year with a major house.
( excluding Black Publishers)

Even combined with Black YA authors published this year who have no more then 3 books it still wouldn't add up to 10

That is break out the tissue, shake your head look how far we haven't come sad. There is no excuse. With that low number I have hard time believing that White editors aren't passing on wonderful YA fiction by Black authors.

I was in the mood last week to read a YA book by a Black author. I enjoy reading outside of myself but there is something about going back to the comfort of what you know.

I wasn't after the familiar and well known. I wanted to discover a new author to lose myself in. There was nothing.

Tockla said...

This is an important point, Neesha. When I worked at two publishers whose focus was developing "multicultural" books, I actively sought and developed authors of color. It made sense, since that was what we did, particularly the mission at non-profit Children's Book Press. But without this intent, and the time and sales pressures that I've heard about in most major publishers, I would imagine this would be difficult for editors to keep in mind. There is more than a moral imperative here, though, as the United States becomes more and more diverse - especially the younger generation. The publishers that have the vision and initiative to seek and develop new talent, to push outside of their comfort zones and acquire books that may feel more "other" (as you said in your aesthetics post... I have to believe that these publishers will profit as a result, both in money and acclaim. Publishing is ultimately about taking risks, finding voices and stories that will push in new directions. Sometimes it is the next "big thing," sometimes they win awards, and sometimes they don't. But the initiative must be there. And good for Brooklyn Arden for throwing out her questions, as those in publishing are often wary of speaking out on these issues (from my experience). And doubly thanks to you, Zetta and others, for speaking out long and loud!
Laura Atkins

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