Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Links

Check out Nnedi's post on FGM and her right to address the issue in fiction - even while some argue she has no such right because she is not African "enough", or that she is a witch, or that she has never experienced it herself or witnessed a ceremony. Some of the comments make interesting points - my comment is somewhere near the bottom, shortly after a post-racialist one, arguing that because we have Obama, and the likes of Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and Clarence Thomas, racism in the US has essentially been stamped out. Ha. I did not have the energy or inclination to respond to that one.

And here are a few links to articles about what's going on in Toronto around the G20/G8 summit riots. It pains me as a Torontonian to see these, but they're no different from what's going on everywhere. Here's an article with more info from CBC Canada; and here's one from Xtra!. And here's a video with commentary at the end. The interesting stuff, for me, was before the reporter's commentary :P . . .

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Links & SYTYCD

Here are Kiera Cass's answers to the self-publishing questions she was asked on Adventures in Children's Publishing. Please note that she just landed a three-book deal with HarperTeen for her second novel (whoa!!).

Check out the latest WAGW post up at Chasing Ray. We're talking about non-fiction we wished we'd read when we were teens.

Also, go read Ari's beautiful review of HIS OWN WHERE, by June Jordan.

I am going deep underground with edits this week, but I will leave you with this awesome video of Lauren Froderman and Dominick Sandoval from SYTYCD. The story is about a woman in an abusive relationship who fights back. Beautifully danced and one of my faves from Wednesday (next to Comfort kicking @$$ in the krumping routine!).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Honouring June Jordan

In honour of the re-release of HIS OWN WHERE, which I reviewed here, I'm going to put up quotes from the inimitable June Jordan. These are quotes that meant a great deal to me when I first read them. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Jordan in the early 1990's, when she visited Toronto and did a reading for Sister Vision Press - a feminist press started and run by women of colour for "challenging and provocative" works written by women of colour. I was young and learning and seeing so many things for the first time. Jordan awed me and blew me away. Her passion, her sense of rhythm, and her absolute, radiating love was what drew me in. I'll never forget that reading. The call for action and change that rose through her depths and made it's impact in that room full of women and men, white and PoC, het and LGBTQ was critical for me during my formative years as a writer and activist. You are greatly missed, Ms. Jordan, but your legacy lives on.

"My life seems to be an increasing revelation of the intimate face of universal struggle. You begin with your family and the kids on the block, and next you open your eyes to what you call your people, and that leads you into land reform into Black English into Angola leads you back to your own bed where you lie by yourself, wondering if you deserve to be peaceful, or trusted or desired or left to the freedom of your own unfaltering heart. And the scale shrinks to the size of a skull: your own interior cage. And then if you’re lucky, and I have been lucky, everything comes back to you. And then you know why one of the freedom fighters in the sixties, a young Black woman interviewed shortly after she was beaten up for riding near the front of the interstate bus––you know why she said, ‘We are all so very happy’? It’s because it’s on. All of us and me by myself: we’re on."
-- from the foreword to Civil Wars, 1980, by June Jordan

"Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

[. . .]
And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea:

we are the ones we have been waiting for."

Go to for more info on Ms. Jordan and her work. Also, look for posts this week by Ari of Reading in Color and on The Rejectionist blog featuring quotes and reviews of HIS OWN WHERE.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Okay, I'm a huge fan of So You Think You Can Dance. It's one of the few shows on television that has lots of talented PoC on it. I have my favourite choreographers (Sonya!) and it was the first show that did a massive, mainstream Bollywood number (Katee and Joshua ROCKED) that had me out of my seat and jumping around like a fool.

I've had my problems with the way Mia Michaels handles some of her criticism (the two times I've taken exception happen to both be when she was critiquing the performances of black dancers), to be sure. At the same time, I have to admit she is a brilliant choreographer. And Nigel definitely grates on my last nerve with his ancient gender crap.

But I'm so excited about this season because there are so many dancers to love! Alex Wong, Jose Ruiz, Cristina Santana, and Robert Roldan, just to name a few of the ones I'm on the edge of my seat for. Here's one of my favourite pieces from last night, featuring some of my all-time fave SYTYCD dancers:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Earnest Plea

OMG, everyone go read this post. This kid rocks. His post reminds me of Ari's passionate and heartfelt plea.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Adventures in Children's Publishing is featuring a YA author who self-published her book with success. She now has an agent and is shopping her book to more traditional houses. Go on over there to add your questions for Kiera Cass. Her answers will go up next Tuesday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Music Videos: Whose Fantasy Is It?

ETA: I seem to be experiencing #bloggerfail. Some people are not able to view the trailer for some reason, so here's a link to where you can watch it. It's definitely worth watching. If you're feeling squeamish, please keep in mind that these are mass media images. Music videos are the common language of young people, and children as young as nine and ten years old are watching these images, digesting them, and incorporating them into their ideas of who they are and how relationships are constructed.

Okay, EVERYONE WATCH THIS TRAILER. Then get every high school/college/university teacher you know to purchase a copy and screen it for their students. I had to watch the whole thing on Youtube because the price was a bit steep for me, but if your school or organization can purchase it, it's WELL worth it to get young people thinking critically about what they're consuming - and how those images/messages shape their ideas of who they are . . . If you're having trouble seeing it here, go to this link. The video was written and directed by Sut Jhally, Ph.D. Dr. Jhally is a professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation.

Since I'm having trouble embedding the trailer, here is part one (of seven) of the video . . .

Friday, June 11, 2010

More on Race

There's a thoughtful post on race in children's publishing here. I really am glad these discussions are now taking place on blogs and forums where folks with decision-making power might pay careful attention. I also love that more and more editors are looking for work by authors of colour. It's certainly a step in the right direction.

However, I've heard more than one editor say that, while they've thrown their doors wide to submissions by PoC, the work they're receiving seems to be sub-par, not polished, or in need of more work than they have time for in this highly competitive business.

I have a couple of thoughts on that. PoC have not had the same opportunities and privileges that white folks have had for hundreds of years in many parts of the world. To expect equal results from white writers and writers of colour when there has never been a level playing field in terms of economics, social and political power, representation and privilege, is to set oneself up for disappointment and to perpetuate the dynamics already in place.

When I was a more idealistic version of who I am today, I went to work at a women's shelter. I felt strongly about domestic violence and I was a young feminist and I wanted to help. I had never grown up around domestic violence so I was unprepared for what I'd encounter. And it wasn't pretty. I had to learn a whole lot, FAST. It was eye-opening, it was brutal, and it was excruciatingly painful to see just how deep misogyny and patriarchy run in our world. But it was necessary. It showed me the Truth. And the Truth is one of the most solid tools you can have in navigating through life.

If you are a publishing decision-maker who wants to do the right thing by publishing or selling more titles by authors of colour, brava!! But you have to know that there is work to be done. The way the system is currently set up, writers of colour must bend and distort our work so that it is recognizable and appealing to white editors. Editors are not required to bend their reality or lens so that they can understand and relate to the styles, traditions, and aesthetics of PoC. So our work is always judged through a white lens. And the work is read and judged based on whether it will appeal to a white readership. The default assumption is that only brown folks will want to read work written by brown folks. And that white readership is the goal. This is problematic on so many levels.

If you want to create true, lasting change, you can't go in thinking you can keep doing what you've always done, only now it will be with brown faces. Dr. Phil (sorry) says the definition of insanity is to keep doing what you've always done and hope for different results each time (what can I say - my mom is a devoted watcher). It's not the same. There are very real differences between white writers and writers of colour, heterosexual writers and LGBTQ writers, writers who've grown up with lots of money and those who've grown up with without - differences that have painful histories behind them, and sometimes the results are not pretty.

This is the same discussion feminists were having years ago when men ran and owned all publishing houses, and women's writing was not taken seriously. It was too "emotional", it was too "flowery", women didn't write about "serious" things, and women weren't getting published. Men were viewing women's writing through a very male lens and never had to bend or shift their perspective. It was out of this that feminist presses and women's presses began sprouting and taking root. They showed that women could write and there was a market for that work and that it sold. Eventually, these small presses began dying out because the larger publishers began publishing more work by women. AND because there were now spaces for women to write, to nurture and cultivate their careers, there were grants and financial support for women who wanted to take writing seriously. In other words, there were larger, societal changes *in addition to* well-meaning editors. AND, here's the key, there were more women editors.

The children's/teen publishing biz has a whole LOT of women editors now. And two of them are women of colour. Ha, just kidding. It might be five. But the same needs to happen now. This is a subjective business. Editors and booksellers can like whatever they like. Let's just get more - including those who understand and value different aesthetics and traditions, and those who aren't necessarily looking for a polished, refined, brown version of Twilight or Harry Potter or Gossip Girl. Let's think outside of the publishing box we've all been shoved into. Let's get representation of ALL children and their histories/stories. Even if it means taking a little more time to nurture a new writer or new voice, or reading everything you can in a particular genre by authors from different backgrounds and literary traditions.

These are important and necessary changes. Painful, eye-opening ones, too. They might show some of us just how deep the roots of racism run in this country. But they may also show us something more important: the Truth. And that is invaluable in all of our journeys.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Discussing Hybridity

Growing up bi-cultural and/or raising bi-cultural/multi-cultural kids. What is lost in the hybridization of cultures; what is gained? This Saturday, June 12th, from 2-4pm, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, I'll be reading from my book and having a discussion on that very topic. If you're interested in joining us, please email me for details.

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, June 4, 2010


Lately, I've had several conversations about reviewing books. How one should review a book, whether one should review a book, and if one does happen to review a book, how balanced should it be, etc.

I do not review books. I offer my thoughts and impressions about books primarily by and about PoC (Debs Blog tour notwithstanding). I do this because it is important to me to shine the spotlight on writing by and about PoC (especially by). I do this because PoC do not get published in the numbers that white writers do, we usually don't get lead title status, we are lucky to be picked up by large chain bookstores, and we struggle to get second, third, and fourth books published far more often than our white contemporaries because we first must prove that people other than those who look like us actually want to read what we write.

For that reason, I tend to look for what I like in books written by PoC. A famous person (I don't remember who) once said, "when new shoots poke through, you must shelter them so they can become strong." Or something to that effect.

Authors of colour generally don't get editors and publishing houses saying (or exhibiting behaviour to the effect of), "that's okay - you grow. I'll shelter you until you are strong." If you look at the histories of some of the white authors we celebrate today, a significant chunk were nurtured until they found their readership and built a following. Here are a couple of quotes from this post, by children's author Maurice Sendak (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE):

About Where The Wild Things Are, "I knew, I knew, I knew it would cause a lot of trouble. And my editor knew it and all she did was encourage me. 'Go for it, go for it. Don't worry about anything or anybody'."

About his editor, "Her name was Ursula Nordstrom. She made me who I am. She gave me a book every year. She kept me working. I mean, can you imagine mentorship from a publishing house? She intended that I should be an important illustrator. She knew I could be. I had bad habits, I never went to art school, I drew in a clumsy fashion, but she could see beneath that."  [Emphasis mine]
As a new author, it's important to be allowed to find your audience, to be able to build a following, to find your style and voice and unique contribution. Most publishing professionals are quick to tell authors of colour that there is no audience or market for our work. And it becomes almost impossible simply to begin that journey.

So, if you come here to read my thoughts on books by authors of colour, you're going to find a whole lot of support for them - those young shoots breaking through the earth and doing their best to survive. That doesn't mean there isn't work to be done, or that the books are without flaws. And I will, without hesitation, call out PoC on homophobia, class and race issues, gender, etc. But it doesn't mean I have to cut them down just as they're (we're) beginning to grow.

Besides, somebody had to love Twilight despite its (numerous) flaws. If you read a book wanting to love it, you find a way to forgive its shortcomings (see aforementioned Twilight reference).

When I see new works (or reprints) by authors of colour, I read them knowing something about the journey of the author on the other end. And I offer whatever kindness and generosity I can. This path, I know, has not been an easy one for any of us.

If you want "critiques" of these works, you'll no doubt find them in abundance elsewhere on the internet. Especially if these works break new ground, are experimental in any way, or simply offer a perspective not often seen. But here, on my blog and in my space, you will find me with my hands around the new shoots, saying, "Grow."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The "White Mind"

ETA: the link to O'brien's article should work now - sorry about that.

Here's an interesting post on the concept of "White Mind" (as relates to children's writing/publishing) by Anne Sibley O'brien. The article is in the current issue of the Bulletin of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Here's a quote:
"We belong to a field full of well-meaning people who care about children. If asked, most would surely agree with poet Lucille Clifton (Some of the Days of Everett Anderson) that “the literature of America should reflect the children of America.” I have never met an aficionado of children’s books who I can imagine wanting those books to misrepresent, marginalize or render invisible whole groups of our nation’s children.
So how can it be that in 2010, this is where we find ourselves:
  • The percentage of published children’s books featuring characters of color is far smaller than - perhaps less than half - the percentage of people of color in the U.S. population, and the majority of these books are still created by white writers and illustrators.
  • Many of the most popular book series, particularly in fantasy, have no significant characters of color at all.
  • Cases of “whitewashing” book jackets, of editors requesting that an author erase a character’s ethnicity so that a book “can reach a larger audience,” of booksellers or librarians passing on certain titles because “our community doesn’t respond to those kinds of books,” suggest an assumption that white readers won’t respond to characters of color."
 And then this:
"[White Mind is] part of the explanation for how scores of thoughtful white writers could create so many books with no significant characters of color, or how so few manuscripts by and about people of color get accepted. It’s one of the reasons why our children’s book conferences and conventions are overwhelmingly white, and why I might walk out of a bookstore or library with a stack of picture books, not even noticing that not a single one of them starred children of color.
From writing and illustrating to hiring publishing staff, editing and marketing to selling, buying and reviewing, White Mind affects children’s books today. Unless we become aware of and develop strategies to directly challenge these patterns, white norms will continue to prevail." [Emphasis hers.]
The article reminds me just a bit of Peggy McIntosh's brilliant essay, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" but is specific to children's publishing. Worth a read.