Top image from Anina Bennett’s “Boilerplate.”
I thought I would be a poet and playwright. Those were the two forms I really enjoyed. I made my living as a journalist, of course, but I thought that I would just stick with those and I would become better and better and better. But in ’68 … I was at a dinner — now this is name-dropping, but these were the people — James Baldwin had taken me over to see Jules Feiffer and Jules’ then-wife, Judy Feiffer, and we talked all night, and I really had to work very hard to get a word in because they’re all great raconteurs.
The next day, Judy Feiffer called a man who is still my editor at Random House and said, “If you can get her to write an autobiography, I think you’d have something.” He phoned me a number of times, Robert Loomis, and I said, “No, I’m not interested,” until he said to me, “Well, Ms. Angelou, I guess it’s just as well that you don’t attempt this book because to write autobiography as literature is almost impossible.” So I thought, “Oh, well, in that case, I better try.” Well, I found that’s the form I love. I love autobiography. … It challenges me to try and speak through the first-person singular and mean the third-person plural.
– NPR, 1986
By Guest Contributor Phenderson Djeli Clark, cross-posted from Media Diversified UK
When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N*gger.
– H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of N*ggers (1912)
I had come to believe that by now the racism of H.P. Lovecraft, the celebrated author of horror and fantasy, was a settled matter — like declaring Wrath of Khan the best film in the Star Trek franchise. Arguing against such a thing should be absurd. I certainly thought so after the matter was thrust into the spotlight in December 2011, when author Nnedi Okorafor won the esteemed World Fantasy Award — whose statuette is none other than H.P. Lovecraft’s disembodied head. Okorafor had been unaware of the depths of Lovecraft’s “issues,” until a friend sent her his 1912 poem,On the Creation of N*ggers, where blacks are fashioned by the gods as “a beast … in semi-human figure.”
This was no one-off, some “misspeak” by the author. Lovecraft’s racial biases ran deep and strong, as evidenced by his stories–from exotic locales with tropic natives lacerating themselves before mad gods in acts of “negro fetishism” (Call of Cthulhu), to descriptions of a black man as “gorilla-like” and one of the world’s “many ugly things” (Herbert West — Re-animator). This was no abstract part of Lovecraft’s creative process, where he was trying to imbue his work with some hint of realism. Rather, these were expressions of his foremost thoughts, a key part of his personal beliefs, most notably his virulent xenophobia towards an increasingly diverse American society emerging outside of his Anglo-Saxon New England.
By Arturo R. García
Science fiction author, futurist, essayist and literary critic Samuel R. Delany was honored at this past weekend’s Nebula Awards as the 30th writer to be bestowed the title of Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in celebration of his body of work.
“This award astonishes me, humbles me, and I am honored by it,” Delany was quoted as saying after the honor (formally known as the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award) was formally announced late last year. “It recalls to me — with the awareness of mortality age ushers up — the extraordinary writers who did not live to receive it: Roger Zelazny, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Octavia E. Butler — as well, from the generation before me, Katherine MacLean, very much alive. I accept the award for them, too: they are the stellar practitioners without whom my own work, dim enough, would have been still dimmer.”
Each month I receive 10-20 advanced copies of young adult fiction books in all genres (mostly geared towards teen girl readers) per month from various publishers. I can count on ten fingers the amount of those books that have featured a protagonist of colour. Even fewer of them feature a protagonist of colour also written by a person of colour.
That’s where We Need Diverse Books comes in.
Responding to the call for more diversity in children’s literature and the recent announcement of the all white all male panel at the upcoming BookCon in NYC, the movement’s organisers are urging readers to take over Twitter today. The hashtag #weneeddiversebooks is already in wide use, but the campaign is asking for even more support starting at 1pm EST:
- Take a photo holding a sign that says “We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.
- The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs.
- However you want to do it, we want to share it! There will be a Tumblr at http://weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com/ that will host all of the photos and messages for the campaign. Please submit your visual component by May 1stto firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.
- Starting at 1:00PM (EST) the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out.
The efforts are set to continue through May 3rd:
On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.
On May 3rd, 2pm (EST), the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them.
While the campaign won’t officially start until later today, there’ve already been several great posts flying around the tag. Below are a few of the best, showing several reasons why we really do need diverse books.
By Deputy Editor Thea Lim
The Racialicious inbox received a very honest email from a writer currently enrolled in a creative writing program, with reference to the book Ms Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. Bynum waits until late in the book to reveal that Ms Hempel is a mixed race person of colour. This raised all sorts of queries for our questioner:
…when I write fiction, I write white characters. When I read fiction I read them as white characters unless/until I am expressly told otherwise. This feels like an ignorant move on my part but at the same time, I feel that that’s what I do because I am white, and that people of other ethnicities read fiction as their ethnicity (or perhaps not, since the field is dominated a lot by dead white guys, but that’s another issue), and they write characters as their ethnicity…
Which I suppose eventually comes to this question: am I to assume that a writer of color is writing stories about people of (their) color? Am I to assume that the black woman in my class is always writing about black people?…[That] the gay writer is writing about the gay experience, or gay relationships? Was I supposed to assume that Shun-Lien Bynum was writing about an Asian character because her name is Asian?… (See how much of an ass I sound like right now?)This feels like a form of discrimination or stereotyping. Why should I assume that just because a person is black that they’re going to write about black characters? Do people of other races assume that white writers are always writing about white characters? Or is that what we’re supposed to do, as writers and as readers?
I’m sure it’s obvious that I’ve been in a sort of bubble with this issue. In my undergrad, there were only 2 nonwhite students in the creative writing classes I took, and in my MFA program there is only one. It seems to be an issue that we skirt around in workshop, for fear of offending someone, perhaps…
This questioner had the fortune (or misfortune) of sending this to me: in case you didn’t already know, when I am not crusading on the internet, I too am a graduate student in a creative writing program. Here are some amended excerpts from the earful and a half I sent back to our questioner:
As for your question: should we assume that all writers of colour are writing for themselves?
All writers have audiences that they are writing for, and it becomes evident who their audience is as soon as they get going. But because much of Great American Lit is written by white writers who are white-centric, much of Great American Lit is written for white folks. So the assumption grows that all audiences and all characters are white – sometimes readers are surprised when they realise all along they have been reading a nonwhite book.
I would say many white writers are not conscious that they are writing for a white audience, just as often in the media the word “everyone” or “regular American” or “the people” means (middle class, hetero, cisgendered, abled) white people. I have to disagree with your (qualified) assertion that generally readers will just assume that the character is of the same ethnicity as them. Rather, many readers of colour are hyperconscious of the fact that a Great Book is not addressed to them; for many of us* learning to appreciate literature requires an extra step that is not there for white readers: we have to learn how to find ourselves in work that may sometimes actively exclude us.
Friend of the blog Jaymee Goh tipped us off about a special event honoring Latino Science Fiction at the University of California-Riverside on Wednesday.
Held under the auspices of the school’s Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies program, “A Day of Latino Science Fiction” kicks off its program at 10 a.m. with a panel discussion featuring authors:
- Mario Acevedo (Werewolf Smackdown, Felix Gomez series)
- Rudy Ch. García (The Closet of Discarded Dreams,)
- Ernest Hogan (Cortez on Jupiter, High Aztech)
- Beatrice Pita and Rosaura Sánchez (Lunar Braceros)
The program resumes at 2 p.m. with a panel featuring longtime TV director Jesús Treviño (Babylon 5, Star Trek: Voyager & Deep Space Nine) and Michael Sedano from the long-running Latino lit site La Bloga. The event is free to the public, and the flyer is under the cut.
by Guest Contributor Belleisa, originally published at PostBourgie
There’s a game I like to play when I walk into a bookstore. Based on the the title, cover and store placement I can always interpret the marketing intention for a book meant for a black American audience. The best part of this game is that the books will, typically, fit into the following categories (they are, in no particular order):
1. Black Pathology or “What’s wrong with Black people?”
2. The literature of “sistah gurl”
3. Christian-oriented fiction/inspirational
4. Street-Lit or Hip-Hop fiction
5. The Slave Novel
6. The Civil Rights Book (This also includes Black Nationalism)
7. The extraordinary rise from street life/poverty/welfare into the middle class.
8. Poorly styled celebrity memoir, or well researched and documented hagiography
9. Black Queens and Kings
10. Hip-Hop analysis
12. The “Black” version of some mainstream topic (For example: “Black Girl’s Guide to Fashion; “Black Families’ Guide to Wealth;”) Guides will include slang, bright colors, and inevitably the phrase “the legacy of slavery.”
13. The Classics: Harlem Renaissance 101 and/or The Black Arts Movement. Toni Morrison.
14. Contemporary Classics or Literary Fiction (Mostly woman, mostly diaspora authors)
15. Non-black author writes really compelling story about black person(s); story gets awards accolades, lots of press and movie deal.
These topics produce wonderful books and poorly written books. They often represent a compendium of the black American experience, and just as often, they are simply a reflection of what publishing thinks black people read.