“The tokens are out there, getting attention by the white reading public, but most black writers are writing for black readers and getting very little attention from mainstream outlets. Segregation is alive and well when it comes to what we read. Can you name five contemporary black writers? Or Latino/a writers? Or Asian writers? Can you do it if you omit writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, Ha Jin, the writers who have achieved enough success to be the go to writers of color?”
Roxane Gay from HTMLGiant on the lack of diversity in the Best American Short Stories 2010.
I heard about Roxane’s post via Vida’s Facebook page and it made me take a good look at my bookshelves. I can name five contemporary black writers, but I couldn’t do the same for Latino or Asian writers, and that’s a shame. I feel so uncultured and like my POC card should be taken away. I’m going to talk to friends and search online to find these writers; I know they’re out there.
But I don’t know what the large scale solution is. Like most writers, I read a lot. I’m reading three books right now, all by white authors. My bookshelves are pretty diverse, but the majority of the books are written by white authors. These are books that were recommended or were on bestseller lists, books that have emotionally resonated with me, even when I don’t necessarily identify with the characters. I identify with good writing and good stories.
Sometimes when I see best-of lists or go to bookstores, it reads like this to me: stories about white people = universal; stories about people of color (give or take the most successful authors of color) = for people of color. Literature should be universal, even the craziest, most zany thing you can fathom. Even stories by people who are “other;” it’s all about the human experience.
Maybe we need more websites like this: White Readers Meet Black Authors or Readers Please Meet These Writers of Color (just made that one up). Maybe we all need to take a look at our bookshelves and agree that we’ll all add writers who are not like us, whether that be because of race, gender, or sexual orientation. I wish none of this stuff mattered, but maybe the more we talk about it, the less it will.