About a month ago, writer Claire Light blogged about the dearth of writers of color submitting to mainstream magazines and publishers and proceeded to make a pretty interesting (and to my mind, kind of crazy) statement with regard to writing that I’ve thought about and thought about over the past several weeks and haven’t been able to forget.
Please note, this is my experience and that of many folks I’ve talked to or read stuff from, not a universal experience.) that the submissions from women and poc are often disproportionately sucky, which is sometimes why even the proportions of women and poc who submit aren’t reflected in the proportions of women and poc actually published.
Now, there are many things that can be said about the slush pile, but in my experience, this is not one of them and furthermore, I know lots and lots of editors and I have never once heard the complaint that the writing of women and POC is measurably worse than the writing of white men. The only complaint I consistently hear is that dealing with the slushpile can be overwhelming. Now, it could be that the editors I know are afraid to discuss this subject with me because I’m a woman of color, but anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m not crazy and that they can discuss anything with me so I think maybe Light is talking to the wrong editors.
What’s interesting is that she precedes this statement with a statement that this phenomenon is true and people simply don’t want to talk about it, that we’re too wrapped up, I assume, in political correction to just admit what she believes to be true.
When I read submissions, I don’t think about race and I rarely think about gender. Sometimes, I will notice I’ve read 84 submissions and only 14 of them have been from writers with noticeably feminine names and I’ll think the discrepancy is troubling but it doesn’t influence an editorial decision and the quality of those submissions from women writers is in no way different from the submissions from male writers.
Light then asserts that women and POC writers don’t make the leap from niche/ethnic/community publications to mainstream publishing for many reasons including that they think their work will not get fair consideration at the mainstream literary magazines and publishing houses.
As I read the post, I couldn’t help but feel that I live on a vastly different planet from the one where Light is residing. I understand many of the points she raises with regard to the barriers women/POC face in publishing but there was a tone of… condescension, perhaps that has me unsettled. I have discussed the real lack of diversity in publishing and there are indeed writing communities of POC who don’t participate in mainstream publishing but when Light starts talking about knowing the rules etc etc etc, as if there’s some sort of secret handshake required to break into mainstream publishing, I really feel like she jumps the shark completely. I don’t think that its that women/POC writers don’t know the lay of the land. I do think they know about Writer’s Market and Poets & Writers. I knew about the Writer’s Market when I was a teenager at boarding school in New Hampshire and found a copy in the library. It is the first book that writers from any community go to. It’s like the Bible. It’s not some secret document for white men only.
Light ends her post with some helpful hints for encouraging more women/POC writers to submit to magazines and publishing houses and as I read the list I felt my irritation growing. Some of the suggestions, like highlighting submission guidelines clearly and explaining what a successful submission looks like are great ideas to help any writer but she also suggests that editors should also state explicitly that submissions from women and POC are welcome, and should send encouraging feedback to “minority” writers and put some “minority” folks on editorial boards. I really feel like the crazy just builds at this point. How on earth can you know someone’s race from their submission? I have no idea, save for a poet who is a friend of mine in real life, who is or is not a person of color amongst the PANK writers.
What takes the cake is when she says:
When you go through your back issues/backlist for the big names to list on your website, be sure to put the names of women writers and poc front and center. A publisher/magazine that has a lot of recognizable “minority” names on its website is basically putting out the welcome mat for “minority” writers. This is a subtle language you must learn to speak.
I find that a little insulting. I do. Am I alone in this? These are difficult issues and Light makes some interesting points and is encouraging a useful discussion about the diversity problem (and it IS a problem) but if these sorts of ideas she’s setting forth, ideas I find simplistic, short-sighted and condescending, are the solution, I worry for the writing world. I’d love to hear what other folks think about this, about her ideas, and about what we do to encourage more diversity (of all kinds) in modern letters.