. . . because I think I am. I feel insulted and marginalized; as if we are being denigrated to POC authors by the attitudes that we are purported to have, when publishers send rejection notices to hard-to-classify authors for their hard-to classify literature
-- rejection notices that say that white people, specifically white Americans, are too stupid, or closed-minded, or unworldly, to understand books that fall outside our realm of experience.
-- rejection notices that say that we as readers can't relate to stories which might introduce us to new worlds, new customs, new traditions, new characters who are different than we are.
i am disgusted, not only that our publishers are making the decisions to reject excellent works by authors they don't know how to categorize, but also because they are blaming it on their white American readers.
It makes me angry. Very angry.
Or maybe disappointed is a better description. And also frustrated.
however, this post isn't supposed to be all about me.
Besides, if publishers can make a white reader uncomfortable with these actions, I can only imagine how demeaning and frustrating it is to authors trying to break through the barriers. And an even bigger Besides, why are they so limited in their views of what any reader wants to read?
A few weeks ago, Publisher's Weekly hosted an event to honor the up-and-coming stars in the publishing arena. Mira Jacobs was the keynote speaker, and this is how her speech began.
"True story: a few months ago, a producer from a literary show on Boston Public Radio asked me to read a section of my book on air. I sent it to him and he said he would need to edit it down. I totally got it. Radio is a different medium. Stories need to change. Sure! Change away. Then I got the edits back. . . . My characters' names, he wrote, were confusing. . . . And then there was this other note, even stranger . . . In a sentence setting the scene up, I had written 'three East Indian teenagers, kids of immigrants, sit talking on the roof of the house.' In his notes, the producer had crossed out East Indian and written 'ASIAN INDIAN'. As if that is a thing that anyone has ever said to anyone else, . . . and the note went on: 'Alas! – – not kidding, he really said Alas! like he was some Victorian maiden – – Alas! Americans aren't familiar with the term East Indian -- it's just not something we say over here.'
[See what I mean? We've all been dumped into some nebulous group where we just don't understand stuff like, I don't know, Geography, I guess.
It's occasions like this when I feel ashamed that I have to make my check mark in the "white" box. sigh.
Ok, back to the speech -- you'll like this part.]
This is when my soul kind of made a Chewbacca noise. That horrible howl.
I took a deep breath. Oh, who am I kidding? I took a shot of whiskey. Then I wrote back. 'Alas!' I wrote – – mainly because I wanted to see if it would turn me into a white lady in a petticoat – – 'Alas! – – I am from America! I was born here, and have lived here for many decades among other Americans, other East Indian Americans, even, which is what we are called, but if that makes you uncomfortable in someway we can always use the broader term South Asian.
We used South Asian.
I was not OK about this for days. . . The thing really got under my skin . . . And I couldn't figure out exactly why until I talked to my best friend, Alison, and she said, 'I think it's the way he cloaked his casual racism in his profession, like it was only professional to point out to you how confusing you are to his audience.'
Here is the thing about how discrimination works: no one ever comes right out and says, 'We don't want you.' In the publishing world, they don't say 'We don't want your story.' They say, 'We're not sure you're relatable' and 'You don't want to exclude anyone with your work.' They say, 'We are not sure who your audience is.'
I believe that. I believe that there are still some people in this industry who are not sure who my audience is. But I do not for a minute believe that is because my audience doesn't exist."
Isn't that a great beginning? She is intelligent, cogent, and humorous. If it made you want to read the rest of the speech, click on the link below.
I haven't read the book yet, but I'm going to; it sounds great. She's received accolades from white people and people with many other skin tones, from East Indian people, Asians, Europeans, and Americans, old people and young, women and men, in short, from Readers, Readers who like Stories.
i'd like to know how we as Readers can influence the publishers who are blocking our access to great books and then blaming it on us. Doesn't seem right.