Invisible writers, invisible readers, and why #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Photo Credit: Huffington

The classic “Invisible Man” written by Ralph Ellison, offers a master class on the African American experience and race relations viewed through the prism of  fiction. It was written in 1952. Today, in 2015, it appears black folks – indeed pretty much all non-white folks – are still more or less invisible when it comes to the mainstream publishing establishment, especially when it comes to reviews and all like that.

I’d like to say I’m shocked and appalled, but..well…I’ve been living in the United States for awhile now so…

No. I’m not.  Shocked, that is. I suppose I’m still appalled. Yeah. I am. But I don’t know how much longer I can stay that way. Not saying I will ever accept racism disguised as blindness as an OK thing, but it’s hard to keep beating your head against the wall while screaming day after day after day without inviting brain damage. Then again, maybe brain damage might be a welcome release.

Damn. That was cryptic. But then, it gets like that sometimes. And then it passes…until the next time.

We’re telling our stories  but nobody seems to want to listen until there’s an emergency of some sort. Baltimore. Ferguson. Long Island.

Same as it ever was.

This piece I just read on NPR by Roxane Gay entitled “The Worst Kind of Groundhog Day: Let’s Talk (Again) About Diversity in Publishing” is what got me started:

Another day, another all-white list of recommended reading. This year’s New York Timessummer reading list, compiled annually by Times literary critic Janet Maslin, offered up zero books by non-white authors. Gawker’s Jason Parham marveled that the list has achieved “peak caucasity” while Divya Guha and staff at Quartz offered an alternate reading list comprised of Indian writers.

And that’s what’s so frustrating about this list; this summer brings so many excellent books from writers of color, many of whom are very well known and have enthusiastic audiences — Balm by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Loving Day by Mat Johnson, In the Country by Mia Alvar, Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet, The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson, Only the Strong by Jabari Asim, Lovers on All Saint’s Day by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Re: Jane by Patricia Park, Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh, and others — that it requires magical thinking to avoid an uncharitable reading of the NYT‘s picks.

It is worth noting that the Times’s recommended summer readings lists in 2012, 2013, and 2014 were similarly lacking in diversity. To be sure, they’re not alone. NPR also published a monochromatic reading list recently. … No list can be comprehensive, but when we see alabaster roundups year after year, it warrants some scrutiny.

Indeed it does.



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