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My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Year of Diverse Authors (Cue Literary Frenzy)

There's an article that issues a challenge going around my Facebook these days. K.T. Bradford has challenged readers to focus on marginalized authors for a single year.

Of course it's the blogging world so the easiest way to get hits is not to write the title as a challenge of inclusion, but actually one of exclusion. Oh and put a slash through a wildly popular artist's most popular book. That's always a way to whip up some rage clicks.

Fortunately, since this is the internet, no one rose to the bait. Here in the blogoverse, that sort of cheap trick to rile them up gets less traction than a station wagon on a muddy mountain backroad. Everyone was calm and collected, they read the entire article (which was actually pretty awesome) before commenting, and they kept in mind that it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain an idea without embracing it. They did this because on the internet, responses are measured and reasonable.

Shortly after this, the sun came up in the west and Pope Francis revealed that he was Jewish.

No, what actually happened is that people lost their fucking minds. In droves. Like some zombie movie where humanity is the real monster. (God forbid challenges be...you know....challenging.) While not even every response was as reactionary as "The Social Justice Warrior Racist Reading Challenge," which I refuse to even link because exposure to it will require anyone of conscience to exterminate all human life, even those who generally care that publishing is whitewashed and feel like they should maybe do a little more about it bought guns into their fortified basements with their canned goods, and grew thick survivalist beards. Packs of feral children roamed the streets. War was upon us.

Of course some claimed it was just the tone. "'Challenge' sounds like it's from authority," they said.

The word "challenge" didn't seem to bother anyone when people were pouring buckets of ice over their heads.

"If she hadn't said 'I challenge you...' and instead had said, 'I discovered something interesting when I spent a year...' the reaction would be a lot different."

Actually, I agree with this.

The reaction would have been a lot different.  In fact, that is demonstrably true: the reaction WAS a lot different because this was already done. Bradford's original article even linked the first piece (a fact I'm sure everyone noticed since they read the article before knee-jerk responding to just the title). So we can actually compare the reactions side by side.

And yes, it's true. The reaction IS a lot different.

Notice how no one is talking about that article? Notice how no one is linking it? Notice how far fewer conversations have been sparked? When social justice issues are confronted in a non-confrontational way, the only thing they accomplish is being easy to ignore. No one ever nicified their tone enough to make their marginalization heard.

So let's unpack these knee jerk reactions just a little.


"Of course this bothers me. Just as long as I don't have to give up anything."
But I'M a cis, het, white male author. What about MEEEEEEEE?

Yeah, so am I. Did you actually think we would achieve equality without having to give up some of our institutional advantages? I stand to lose from this if someone takes a break from my blog for a year. I still think it's a great idea. Look this isn't about excluding our privileged asses. Our voices are far, far more places than we have any right to be. This is about consciously incorporating those voices which are generally lacking. I'm not diversity. I'm the opposite of diversity.

Anyway, don't worry about it so much when it (for once) goes the other way; our systematic advantages have and will continue to work for us in a way that no year of reduced readership will possibly impact.

Besides, anyone who's seen my proofreading knows I don't really read myself anyway. ~rimshot~

But what about X author? I just can't live without him.

I know series are crack, but let's get some perspective here. We're talking about reading OTHER great things for a finite amount of time, not swearing off Dresden or Taltos for eternity.

Look this is a challenge not an edict. You decide your level of engagement. Mix it up if you want. Let yourself read your guilty pleasures but promise a "make up" book. Do it for a month and see if you want to "renew your contract." Do it by ratio instead of time (four diverse books to "earn" a cis het white male author). Add other axes of marginalization like disability or poverty. I'm a particular fan of the, "I'm making an exception for blogs/I'm making an exception for Chris Brecheen" house rules I heard yesterday.

Me? I'm planning on giving myself one or two "cheat" books each month, and then extending the exercise by 30-40 years.

Why would we put this prejudice crap over skills. A good story is a good story. Why should I judge authors by their external makeup. It's not about skin color. That's what MLK said! I have a dream, motherfucker.

This isn't actually about skin color or plumbing or sexual orientation or gender identity as such. This is more about life experiences than "external makeup" (although the world certainly tends to provide people with particular external makeup very different life experiences than those cis, het, white males). Cis het white males experience the world with the feeling that they are the "default everyman" or "just a person." With other voices the world makes them very aware of their identity and it shapes the way they write. These voices are tragically less represented and so an average voracious reader may have to make an effort to seek them out. It would be more analogous to reading British lit for a year if you only ever read American authors or giving your favorite genre a break to see how other genres work and feel. (Which is also a good idea, by the way.) Marginalized writers' lives are different, they write in different ways about slightly different things.

Being absolutely colorblind actually reinforces the status quo.

I just read what I enjoy, okay! I judge writers by their skill.

Who in the fucking world suggested you read books you don't enjoy? Who said these writers weren't skilled.

Seriously?  You can't find anything you enjoy that isn't cis, het, white, male?  Like are you saying, you don't like Divergent, Hunger Games, Dream of the Red Chamber, And Then There Were None, The Alchemist, Anne of Green Gables, To Kill a Mockingbird, Valley of the Dolls, The Thorn Birds, Norwegian Wood, The Kite Runner, A Wrinkle in Time, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Life of Pi, Nancy Drew, Twilight, The Vampire Chronicles, Out of Africa, Little House Books, Rainbow Magic, The Joy Luck Club, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, True Game, The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Mrs. Dalloway, In Cold Blood, The Hours, American Psycho, On The Road, Angels in America, Wicked, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Color Purple, Leaves of Grass, Our Town, The Salt Roads, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Butterfly Effect, Frankenstein, Kindred, Shadow over Avalon, Beloved, Sula, The Disposessed, Left Hand of Darkness, Who Fears Death, Nights at the Circus, Vorkosigan, Oxford Time Travel, Hainish Cycle, The Patternmaster Series, Company Wars, Paradox Series, Imaro, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, ...

~deep breath~

...or maybe even Harry Potter?

None of them? Seriously?

If there's honestly nothing not written by a white, het, cis man that you could possibly enjoy, I apologize for wasting your time. You are clearly an outrageous transphobic, homophobic, misogynist racist, and I didn't mean to disturb your delicate world view.

If what you actually meant is that you don't think about who writes what you consume and enjoy, that is entirely, ENTIRELY the point of the exercise. To find good writing by people with slightly different world experiences.

How in the world are we supposed to be able to tell what race or sexual orientation an author is?

Jesus Literally Titfucking CHRIST are you listening to yourself? "How ever will I discover such arcane information. If only I had access to the greatest repository of human knowledge in all of history (ever) on my cell phone then perhaps I could discover the answer to this perplexing mystery."

Far be it from me to suggest that a struggle for equality might warrant fifteen seconds on Google, but....  No wait. My "Be it's" are not far from me at all with this one.

And while it is theoretically possible that you might not be able to figure out if Xrandombook is written by an author from a typically marginalized voice, but it should be a breeze to Google "women authors" or "authors of color" and come up with a reading list. Shit, I enjoyed making my reading list. I probably tossed three years worth of books onto that TBR pile.

If finding out who wrote a book is actually too much work, then you may sit down. You're excused. Don't hurt yourself.

But it's HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARD!

It's really not.

What it is, is subversive. And that feels like "difficult," until you take a closer look, because it's not what we're used to. (Like saying that keeping track of fifty or sixty words that are used as slurs is really hard, and you should not have to remember anything more than the N word,"Kike," and a couple of others to be golden. Meanwhile you've memorized The Holy Grail in its entirety including when the guy in the dungeon is clapping along to the song.) You literally only have to find out if an author is a woman OR transgender OR LGBTQ OR a person of color. You only need ONE of those things. It is actually ridiculously easy.

The point is to break out of your typical thinking and reading patterns and see what happens when you enjoy a diverse set of viewpoints for a sustained period. If that didn't involve some minor discomfort, ask yourself why you're reacting so powerfully to it.

I could make up a reading list of Bujold, Cherryh, Morrison, and Butler that I could enjoy for a year without breaking a sweat. It might feel a little unfamiliar (which is the point), but it's not hard.

I am completely incapable of working the Google.

19 Must Read SF/F Books by Women of Color
Non Male/Non White Author Recommendations
Best 100 Books By Women
Best Gay Authors
25 Favorite Authors of Color
YA-Friendly Books By and About Transgender People

And there's always Wikipedia.


Or don't.  That's an option, you know. Just DON'T DO IT. Say "no thank you," and go on about your day like you would if someone invited you to do their all-grapefruit diet. I'm sorry if your head feels itchy because of your that's-not-a-moon realization that at an institutional level you might be of part of the problem.*

But these excuses don't actually hold water at all, and you can just politely decline without coming off like you're protesting too much.

*Just kidding. I'm not really sorry.

9 comments:

  1. It's not that it's hard. I just don't see any reason to do it, whatsoever. I will read good stories, good poems and good books. Period. I will judge a writer based solely on their abilities, and not their external makeup.

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    Replies
    1. This is more about life experiences than "external make up" (although the world tends to provide people with particular external make up very different life experiences than those who don't). It would be more analogous to reading British lit for a year if you only ever read American authors. Their lives are different, they write in different ways about slightly different things.

      But if you don't want to do it, don't do it.

      Delete
    2. I'm using my Google ID, but it just keeps reloading? I'll try to troubleshoot once I have small humans to bed and so forth. What I want to say to Bryan is this:

      "I will read good stories, good poems and good books. Period."

      This concerns me. You will read good stories, good poems, and good books *to which you have access*. Because the literary world tends to, on a systemic level, preference white guys, most successful and lauded books are by white guys, and it is important to bear in mind that these white guys are not the dominant force in literature because they are in any sense *better* at it.

      For most people not making a mindful choice to seek out a diverse array of authors, the vast majority of their reading material will represent the perspectives of a very narrow category of people and, more to your point, they will be *missing some of the best writing*, because some of the best writing comes from people outside that narrow category. Publishing is not a perfect meritocracy. Books are published because they will make money, not because they are the best. They are promoted according to expected profit, not according to expected literary value. They are read in an academia dominated by white male voices, and critiqued in news media and literary circles also dominated by white male voices. To pretend that this does not impact access to and success of excellent work from other authors is myopic, at minimum.

      It's ok to choose not to do this challenge, of course! Nothing about it is mandatory. But for anyone with a real commitment to reading the best material available, there is immense value in making a conscious effort to seek out the best material that the dominant system is helping you miss. If you see recommendations for the best books from marginalized authors as anything less than a gift, that suggests that you've got some unconscious bias in favor of the status quo going on, and seriously, it's robbing you of good material.

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  2. Really wish this argument had been included in the post. Is it that hard to understand that good books by people who aren't cis het white males probably don't come across your path as often, and therefore you should make an effort to seek them out?

    Ps. Nancy Drew was written by ghost writers, some of whom were men. She's still awesome though.

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  3. I don't think I'll be able to do it completely - there are a few authors that are my equivalent of comfort food if I'm stressed (Asimov being main one) - but I think I'm going to have fun with things I hadn't read before. (I was planning to use the list of nominations for the author of colour poll anyway for some new reading ideas!)

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  4. I work as a librarian, and I think I'm going to contribute to this by spending this year to only highlight in my display non-cis het white guys, as well as participate myself with my personal reading maybe a once-a-month exception (sorry, really want to read Jim Butcher's new book). It'll be interesting to see if anyone notices.

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