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September 2014

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writing rengeek magpie mind

One marvelously clever thing that was suggested at the "Why is SF so White?" panel, as a means of encouraging more non-white writers into the industry, was a mentoring program. (Liz Scheier, from the audience, also mentioned that she doesn't see nearly enough submissions with non-white protagonists or main characters, and would love to see more.)

The idea being that would-be writers of color could be paired with volunteer authors who would help mentor them.

I am not the person to administrate this. I know this about myself. But I thought it was a good enough idea to be worth sailing out into the zeitgeist.

Comments

Hm.

Much like Charlie's heading up of the slushbombing of F&SF, I suspect that if this is not headed by a "writer of color", it would get the same sort of hairy eyeball.

It's an interesting idea. I'm all for mentoring writers, but I think there are a whole lot of factors that would need to be examined. Like, reasons why there aren't more "writers of color" writing in the genre. There's probably some "don't see the authors already there, so we're not welcome" going on. Could that be resolved by more pushing or holding up of the authors that *are* there? (Octavia Butler, Steven Barnes, Nalo Hopkinson, etc. for instance.) Don't know, maybe.

Much like more positive representation in the media, it'd be great to have it in genre fiction, too. I'm just not sure that this sort of mentorship would make it happen. It's an interesting thought, though.

As a side not, I'd dearly love a different phrase. "Writers of color", anything "of color" sits uncomfortably with me.

It's a phrase I loathe, as well. But there you have it. (I am of color: I am a pinky beige.)

The consensus by those attending the panel was that it was a self-replicating process. If people do not see people like them doing something, they assume that it is not something they "can" do. (Fiona Patton called it a "you-shaped door.")

And yeah, being exceedingly white is one of the reasons I am not the person to head it up. (The other is being a sucktastic administrator.)

It's not incumbent upon those who are discriminated against to do all the work of ending discrimination, of course.

One of the things that *we* can do is increase the diversity of our writing.
Involvement with people of minorities?
I'm not at all sure... Wait. Never mind.

I journaled a bit about an aspect of this a while back. I never do tags right, but it's at http://kvaadk.livejournal.com/#entry_23257
(Ignore the part about bikers.)

I often write black heroines, because, well, look at the userpic.
This lead to three cases of illustrations not matching the stories at a gaming site for which I write.
In the first case, while I thought the character's ethnicity was clear, the artist understood "dark" to mean Mexican/Italian.
In the second case I went out of my way to mention her ebony complexion and that her hair was corn rowed. Illustration of another Italian, this one with flowing blonde hair. (The way I got the story on this was the artist had read "corn rows" as "corn colored.") It was fixed before publication.
In the third case the character was white, described as freckled with ash-blonde hair. But by now the art department was used to me. In the original illustration (changed before the story published) she's black.

I would be happy to be involved in any program which encourages people of colors other than beige to write. I teach, so mentoring comes naturally. (Administration does not, however.) I also think it takes little effort -- and may have great effect -- for us as writers to make the choice to write stories with non-white lead characters. Do what we can while waiting for the new crop of writers.
Hold the damned door open.

Exactly.

I can only speak for myself and pretend to speak for others like myself

Someone asked me about this at Writer's Weekend about why there aren't more minority writers being published in sf/f. I think some of it has to do with the interest as well as the whole minority thing.

That is to say, those with Asian-American backgrounds (such as myself) tend to not be steered towards the arts as a potential career or hobby, at least to the extent in which one would give up other things in the drive to get published. Since it's neither stable nor lucrative it is a waste of time, as it were. (Though there is some leeway for Important Literary Stuff, but not so much sf/f.) I have a lot of other Asian friends involved in fandom and such, but not at a point in which they really, really go for the dream as it were. It's just a fun hobby to write fanfic or whatever.

So, if you've got a minority, and within the minority is even a further minority who is interested in chasing the dream, and then add the steep scale of even getting published and/or being successful no matter what your minority or majority and... well, not many break through.

But then not many white folks do, either :)

At least, that's my take on the Asian-American experience, but please feel free to add or correct me. This is just what I've gone through and seen others around me go through.

Re: I can only speak for myself and pretend to speak for others like myself

I think Asians in America perhaps do not yet feel the luxury of thinking about the arts for a living, nor face the closed doors that lead to a desperation to escape via the arts. Trapped by the "model minority" myth.

I thought, when I was younger, and there wasn't yet a flood of Asian American women's experience novels (sparked by Amy Tan), that I might write some sort of pseudo-biography. Writing about F&SF seemed frivolous to me in the face of being misunderstood *now* - but I think if I'd known about Chip Delaney when I was younger, I would have seen it differently. Or maybe not - it seemed somehow when I saw Octavia Butler and Chip Delaney and other black American writers of F&SF that it was a black/white thing, and once again something where being Asian left one out.

I'm workin' on it!

I'm actually hoping to have a short story published by the end of next year - and I'm full Eskimo. Okay, it's not SF - the world is fantasy, but I'm not caucasian. I just blend in well.

Re: I'm workin' on it!

Thank god. You can have my spot on the panel in 2008. *g*
Huh. Sam Delaney would probably disagree. ;)
Chip Delany does yeoman's work as a teacher. What's your point?
Thinking about this a little more... I'm going to sound totally ungrateful here :D

Although in general I think it's a well-intentioned idea, and heavens knows I'm not one to shy away from opportunities, I'm also not entirely sure I would want to be helped because I'm a minority. It's sort of like getting hired on a job to fill a diversity quota.

My pride sort of feels like I'd rather be mentored because I'm a promising writer with skill and determination, not because I'm a promising writer who happens to also be Asian-American.

But, I may be a *cough* minority in that mindset or missing the point.
I think you're missing the point. A bunch of people who do not look like you standing around talking usually looks like an exclusionary clique you don't want to approach. If one of them comes over and says "Hey, come hang out with us," it opens a door.
I think the whiteness of sci-fi/fantasy is kind of a mimetic thing/vicious cycle. Theory:

A) Nerdy white d00d(ette)z make SF&F novels.
B) Other nerdy white d00d(ette)z buy and read said novels. Some of them become writers and produce their own.
C) Cycle repeats.

Obviously you have Octavia Butler and others, but this is merely my attempt at esplaining the whiteness of the authordom/fandom.

As for why so many CHARACTERS in SF&F are white, I think it's the "unexamined white male privilege" thing you mentioned. It's the first thing that comes to their mind.

Of course, if I am talking out of my ass (again), please inform me.

(On another note, I now mentally lump Heteronormativity and Default Fantasy Caucasianism into one phenomenon that I call Vanilla Cupcake Syndrome.)
Vanilla Cupcake Syndrome

That is a term that needs to be in general use.
Something to mention in this context is the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund to enable writers of color to attend Clarion or Clarion West, administered by the Carl Brandon Society. It completes the things the two CBS awards say (in my reading, anyway): if you're a self-proclaimed writer of color, there's a group of people who read your work to look for excellence and reward that excellence with an award that carries a chunk of change; if you're a writer of any ethnicity examining issues of ethnicity, there's a group of people, et cetera, chunk of change; and if you're a beginning writer of color, there are enough people who want there to be more writers of color to provide funding for your education.

I still find it surprising that Octavia is gone, even after a summer of not seeing her at parties where she should have been. Until she died, it hadn't occurred to me that white folks could join the Carl Brandon Society, just as we can join the NAACP, just as men can join NOW.
What kate_schaefer said; this is definitely something for the Carl Brandon Society.
I think a mentor program to encourage young writers OF ANY COLOR is a wonderful idea.

There are already wonderful programs and online avenues to assist and mentor would-be writers of any color, age, or culture.

As soon as you start to separate the "would-be writers of color" from the "would-be writers", you open up a Pandora's Box.

As a person of color, I sure as hell don't want someone to offer to mentor me just because I'm a would-be SFF writer of color.
If I understand the idea as suggested, it was not so much intended as an assistance program, as a way of letting minority writers know that they would be a valued addition to the field, and that the door stood open to them.
I expect I haven't read enough SF/F to really comment well on this, but what precisely do people mean by writers or characters "of color"? In the States it often seems to be more related to culture than to skin color-- "acting white," for instance. In fiction, LeGuin's Ged, to name the most-cited example in the discussions I've read, is dark-skinned, but does not particularly seem like a member of any of Earth's dark-skinned races. He's not particularly tribal. He's well-educated, powerful, ambitious (at first) and individualistic, all of which characteristics he shares with Madison Avenue executives. (Others, of course, he doesn't.)

Point being, what is the real significance to being dark-skinned? If most prejudice is actually cultural in nature, is there much value in revolting against prejudice based solely on skin color? Missing the target, as it were.
Go read the Pam Noles essay linked above, and get back to me.

Other side of the looking-glass

Haven't been able to read all the posts, but this is a topic that's of a lot of interest to me, particularly because I happen to be of the darker persuasion. I know there's a lot of emphasis on what the mentors or the already published should/could/want to do, but what are some suggestions about those of us on the other side of the mirror? What can I do (other than the obvious getting published thing) to help with this? Also, could we include the comic book industry under the umbrella of specfic or are we restricted to only that certain section of Barnes & Noble?

Re: Other side of the looking-glass

Get published. *g* I honestly think that's the best way to encourage diversity in science fiction and fantasy, if you happen to be, yanno, diverse in some fashion.
On who's what: Like many people of Eastern European ancestry (Jewish, Slavic, Baltic, German...), I have some Asian ancestry which doesn't show up in genealogical records. Doesn't show on me, either; does with my maternal grandfather's family.

Hispanics: I've met Mexican-Americans with not just varying admixtures of European and American Indian ancestry, but one who's put Chinese and one who was part Eskimo.

There are people born in Buenos Aires, whose ancestors go back several generations in Argentina, who consider themselves Italian.

Where I grew up, one of the local heroes was Tom Quick the Indian killer. Indians killed his family; he vowed to kill a hundred Indians in revenge. (The story is that he got up to 99, and on his deathbed pleaded for someone to bring him one more Indian.)

About ten years ago, I realized that all of Tom Quick's descendants I'd known were also part Indian.
Not quite the same as mentoring, but I'm part of a committe now putting together a series of SF writing workshops for underprivileged (and from what I gather from the organizers, predominantly black) kids in Toronto. It's a bit daunting (I've never had to plan courses on this scale before), but some of the ideas we're pulling together are really interesting.

I'm planning on blogging it as we progress (right now, we're still hammering out course outlines and applying for funding), but it's been really fascinating so far. Starting with our dilemma in trying to figure out how to pick which 20 kids get to try the flagship course, and what criteria we're going to use in choosing them.
...I didn't even know that was going on.

If you need any dogsbodying/grunt work/whatever for it, drop me a line?

Cool Proposal--Here's A Practical Suggestion (and a minor ramble)

Cave Canem is an organization that's been extraordinarily successful at, as they put it in their mission statement, the discovery and cultivation of new voices in African American poetry. I think Toi Derricotte, one of Cave Canem's founders, might be willing to have her brain picked about what worked and what didn't.

In my tutoring practice, nearly all of my teenage students are Indian or Chinese, about evenly mixed by gender, and when I ask them what they read for pleasure, all of them name fantasy first, and some of them name science fiction second. To as great an extent as the parents will allow, I assign readings in those genres.

The sense I get is that the current generation of adolescents is is, regardless of ethnicity, so saturated in J.K. Rowling and in the YA fantasy boom that's followed her, we can expect our community to get more diverse over the next couple of decades, no matter what. I hope we can make them feel welcome as they come in. Great literatures require great audiences, and ours could use some new blood. Also, it would be good if we were collectively to plan ahead so as not to be jerks.
>(Liz Scheier, from the audience, also mentioned that she doesn't see nearly enough submissions with non-white protagonists or main characters, and would love to see more.)

Yeah...well. EMPIRE OF BONES had completely non-white protagonists, being set in India; BANNER was in large part set in Asia, and they were the worst selling of my books in the States. Draw your own conclusions.

Non-white protagonists who are also American or living in America may shift books. But genre novels set elsewhere on the planet? Hmmmm.
Hmm. I wonder how River of Gods is doing. I mean, I know it made the Hugo ballot, but that's not an indicator of general sales.