Musings 9/7/17: What Exactly is Diversity in Writing?

It’s called Diverse Voices, Own Voices or Marginalized Voices and more recently BAME – I just saw this for the first time yesterday so really, I don’t know how long this has been in use but if I’m using the right definition according to Acronymfinder.com it is, BLACK, ASIAN & MINORITY ETHNIC.  It’s called many things but what exactly do they mean?

I see that raised eyebrow.  Read a bit further before you come to a conclusion.

I asked the question on FaceBook.  Here is the original post:

I’m planning a Musing on the subject but first I would like the opinion of my fellow authors. With your permission, I would like to use your comments in my post. Question to ponder: What do you think agents/editors mean when they say they want *diverse voices*? What does *diverse voices* mean to you?

**Addition 7:23 pm** – What does this mean for speculative fiction?

Two of my FB friends were kind enough to provide their opinion in the matter:

Rhi Etzweiler commented, “Not a narrow cross section of any given culture or social class. Diversity and divergent characters. Voices that aren’t all thinking alike, parroting one another. Exploration of alternative perspectives, regardless of where the focal point stands.”

“For speculative fiction, I’d take “diverse voices” to mean a challenge to explore that which isn’t mundane and familiar to society and culture as humanity manifests it. Outside the comfort zone, way outside the box. Something profound, alien, challenging, to even the outlier perspectives of contemporary society.”

Jamie Harmon Nare commented, “Own voices stories – authors who write stories from their experience be they people of color or LGBTQ or have suffered with mental illness. But also, what Rhi Etzweiler said. I was trying to think of examples but all of the ones I come up are YA like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas or Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson.”

It seems that’s the big thing nowadays and I want to be certain that I’m understanding the concept as it can be interpreted, I believe, in a number of ways.  It seems all agents, editors and publishers want these types of works – well that and young adult.  I’ve always believed that any author should write for themselves first and then for the readers, agents, publishers and so on.  For this Musing, I’m focusing on literary agents, since I’m currently searching for one.

All of the information you see is taken from the Manuscript Wish List or agent sites and social media pages and all quotes have the agent information attached to them.  It is not my attention to plagiarize anything, however, these words are a part of their submission guidelines which are meant to be read by all.

A few of the things I’ve seen:

“Actively looking for: BAME and #ownvoices authors across all ages and genres…”

Alice Sutherland-Hawes

Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency

 “I am particularly interested in OwnVoices (Indigenous, African/African American, Asian, Latino/a/x, Muslim and other religious minorities, people with disabilities*, Multiracial/Multicultural, LGBTQ, etc) and Inclusive Narratives…”

Quressa Robinson

D4EO Literary Agency

I must note that Ms. Robinson has very specific examples for what she would like to see, which you can also view on the Manuscript Wish List.  Explanations like that are of great help, as it leaves no doubts as to what she is looking for.  The excerpt there is from her Tumbler page.

“Diversity in genre fiction is dear to Tricia’s heart.  As an agent, Tricia wants to represent authors who reflect diversity and cultures in their work.”

Tricia Skinner

Fuse Literary

“I want books by marginalized creators.”

“…breaking away from traditional Western tropes and archetypes.”

Jessie Devine

D4EO Literary Agency

Ms. Devine (I love that name!) is specific as well.  Why am I including her comment about Western tropes?  I’ll get into that a bit later.

“Monica is serious about the fact that We Need Diverse Books and is looking for authentic representation of all characters, diverse or otherwise.”

Monica Odom

Bradford Literary Agency

When I first started seeing these words, I wondered did it mean works written by people of color about people of color?  So as a Black woman I’m already covered?  Anything I write would be considered diverse?  Or are they saying in order to be truly diverse, I can only write about subjects that are related to my heritage and background?  I’ll touch on why that’s not something I want to do, later.  Is it the same for Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and every other culture in the world?  I don’t know about anyone else but this prospect makes me feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable.  Or maybe I’m just reading too much into it?  If this is a case then as a Black woman, I would have to write the next, The Hate U Give in order to have agents consider me as writing with a diverse voice?  I’ve seen many agents reference this particular work when saying what it is they want.

But what if I don’t want to write something like that?

It’s real life, you say?  Don’t I want to write about real life?

Nope.

Why?  Because I’m at an age where I’ve lived through and seen some effed-up s*** happen, so no I DON’T want to write about real life.  Most of it I’m trying to forget, which isn’t easy and those instances have had a profound effect on me.

Hence my love for fantasy.  It’s an escape.  That’s why it exists and that is NOT a bad thing.  I enjoy reading about and creating people, places and things not known to the mundane world.  For just a little while I get to relax and let my mind be filled by my words or the words of someone else.

OK, you say, why not write a fantasy set in Africa?  Based on African myth and legends?

I’m going to direct you somewhere else to answer that question.  Author S. Jae-Jones, was asked a similar question on her Tumbler page and her response is pretty much the same as mine.  I would suggest clicking on her name link and reading through, then come back here.  I’ll wait as usual….

Back?  OK, now go to her post on the Fantasy Café blog here, and read, then back here again.  Oh, and here’s where you can buy her debut novel, Wintersong on Amazon.  It’s on my TBR List.

I’m long past the point where I try to be what others think I should be because of where my ancestors came from.  And I have very little experience in that area.  I’m an original native of my state and have been exposed to all things American.  “Born and bred in the heart of the – Northeastern suburbia.”  Life was quiet and plain and there were times when I was truly grateful for that, considering the alternatives.  No one ever told me to look into where I came from.  Sure, I’m working on doing that now and maybe once I learn more I will write something like that but for now – no.

Big Brother once commented that even in my fantasy works, I write American.

I’m wondering if I’ve gotten my point across.  I’m really not certain and again, I’m not trying to upset anyone but I feel like I’m being told that what I write isn’t truly who I am and agents only seem to want writers and stories that are directly related to some supposed voice.  That just isn’t me.

And I wonder what their motivations are.  Is it just because this is the big thing nowadays?  The flavor of the month?  Is there going to be a point where the business states the market is oversaturated and now diverse voices are no longer needed?  Now that would be a tragedy!

The New York Times Magazine published an article by author Anna Holmes, on October 27, 2015; First Words, the question is asked, has the word diversity lost its meaning?  It begins with this sentence, “How does a word become so muddled that it loses much of its meaning?”

Ms. Holmes touches on many happenings concerning diversity, starting with some totally inappropriate remarks by a CEO which was followed by a lawsuit.  He apologized but it seemed half-hearted and according to Holmes, the word itself is a euphemism and a cliché only used when someone wants to prove they know what it actually entails.

And Ms. Holmes is correct when she writes that despite these supposed efforts to include diversity in the workplace most businesses are still woefully underrepresented.  And it appears that people who use this word, only do so to make themselves look like they’re actually doing the right thing.  The article goes onto state that no one really knows what diversity means and the definition changes depending on who is doing the talking.  When she was told that the reason why she was hired was because of a diversity push and her boss had received a bonus, she was understandably upset.  I don’t blame her, I would be too.  Wondering, am I being hired because of my ethnicity or because my talent is recognized?  Or in the case of publishing, are you accepting my submissions because of its written by a person of color or because I’ve written something entertaining?

One of my favorite directors, writers, and producers,  Ava DuVernay (she was the subject of one of my university papers!) says she personally hates the word.  It’s like medicine.  She prefers the words inclusion and belonging.  Frankly so do I.

OK again, back to the subject.  I know I’ve gone off on a tangent here but I feel that all subjects are related in a sense.  I believe this subject takes a lot of thought and consideration from all of us, no matter what business we happen to be in.

And what will I do?  Keep writing what I love.  A Black woman who writes EPIC FANTASY.  Where are the calls for diverse writers of EPIC FANTASY?  Notice I capitalized the words.  There are a few of us, yes, but how many years – decades even – did it take for the very few we have now to be accepted?  I did my research of course.  There are quite a few blog posts on this very same subject.  So far, the only two I managed to find of prominence are bestsellers, N.K. Jemisin and David Anthony Durham.

Wow.

I’ll keep looking and please feel free to post other authors of EPIC FANTASY.

So literary agents, editors and publishers, what do you say?  Wouldn’t you like to be responsible for bringing the next Jemisin or Durham into the spotlight?  And not just because they are people of color but because they write damn fine works in a genre that is barely touched on by people of color.  Although since you’re going for diversity that would work to your benefit as well.

Whoa, I had a lot to say, didn’t I?  And maybe I went all over the place but I feel the subjects I’ve touched on are all connected.  If you, as a publishing professional, want to do the right thing, then you need to look in all directions and not just what is the popular thing right now.  That is not being diverse.

So, we’ve seen a few opinions, I’ll try to get more, or if you’re so inclined, tell me what you feel diverse writing is in the comments.  If I get enough I’ll make a second post on the subject.  In the meantime—

Peace,

CJ

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