ETA: Time’s up! Comments closed. Will post summary/moar thinkythoughts soon, though prob’ly not ’til I’ve escaped Deadline Hell on Dreamblood revisions.
This great post over at the Rejectionist on the African American fiction section in bookstores made the rounds on Twitter yesterday, so I’m signal-boosting it here. You might remember that this is a subject near and dear to my heart, as well as my career. In that post I mentioned that I would eventually get around to tackling the subject of universality. …But this is not that post.
Because I need some data, first. This is not an attempt to do a serious survey, of course; I have neither the money nor the time to do it right. But since it seems to me that things like the African American fiction section derive from a manifest belief that black writers* are producing something that no one but black readers could possibly want to see, and that in fact even being black makes our work less palatable to others (note the Rejectionist’s point about white authors who write black protagonists not getting shelved in the AA section)… then we need to figure some stuff out.**
Here’s what I want to know: what do you think of as universal themes, plot points, and characters? That’s a bit nebulous, so I’ll use myself as a guinea pig again, and target this question toward people who’ve read either The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, or both. And I’ll narrow down the question with some specifics:
- What’s your race? (Apparent, actual, or whatever; your call)
- Were you aware of my race before you picked up the book(s)? If not, at what point did you find out?
- Were you aware of Yeine’s or Oree’s race?
- What were your assumptions about the book(s) before you picked it up, based on the previous two questions?
- Did anything about the book(s) — the characters’ races, related themes, the way I wrote them, whatever — surprise you? If so, what?
- If you knew ahead of time, did you hesitate to read this book because I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
- Do you know anyone else who hesitated, or outright refused, to read this book because [person] knew I was black, or because the protagonist(s) wasn’t white?
- What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF writer would/could/should write about?
- What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, only a black SFF reader would/could/should care about?
- What elements of the book are something that, in your opinion, anyone would/could/should care about?
Some ground rules: Answer any or all of these, as you see fit. Please confine your comment to answering the questions, however; this is a survey, not a conversation. I’ll put up a followup post where we can talk about the results, in a few days. Please don’t comment on anyone else’s comments — I’ll delete anything like that that gets posted. To get honest answers, I’m going to encourage those of you who are so inclined to post anonymously or pseudonymously (just use a fake email addy) in the comments. I am not going to turn off IP checking/logging, however, because there are some folks I’ve already banned from commenting here and that’s the only way I can keep them off. I really don’t care who you are, I assure you — but if you have a problem with that, don’t comment.
WARNING: Obviously I’m temporarily waiving my no-tolerance policy on racism here. Since I’m asking people to admit some protentially faily stuff in public, it can’t be helped. But for those of you who really just don’t need another helping of ugliness as part of their daily allowance, I am encouraging you not to read the comments. I will put a rough summary in the followup post, so I’m the only one that has to read them all. Oh, and I’ll be closing the comments in three days (Friday evening), note. I might be willing to take one for the team, but I’m not a masochist.
I’m not going to say “African American,” because I’ve routinely seen Afro-Canadian, straight-up-African, and other non-AA authors shoved into this ghetto. But no white writers, even if they’re from some part of Africa.
I’m talking “black” and “non-black” here because I’m black. But please note that this problem hits other demographics too — there’s a women’s fiction section, a gay section, an Asian American section, and a Native American section at the bookstore I frequent. I’m also aware that some authors in these categories want to be there, and/or aren’t trying to write universally — they want to write something for their group, period full stop. I’ll discuss these things more when I get around to writing that universality post.