Coverage of female-identified writers and writers of color has become a hot topic recently. Who are we to complain? It’s important – vital, even – to address the imbalance, when it comes to publishing, reviewing and promoting writers of color, especially writers of color who identify as women. That’s why we started Quaint, and it’s why we’re so excited by literary journals like Room Magazine, Calyx, and Kalyani.
However, as hashtag activism and social justice on social media explode with support for people of color, women, trans* people and other communities typically excluded, not only from the literary sphere but from other, more essential and tangible spaces, the potential for the movement to be taken advantage of, to be used as a proverbial feather in one’s cap, increases.
Let’s all agree that we should not use diversity as a marketing tool. Let’s all agree that diversity isn’t something that we should pursue for a year, or a month; it isn’t something that should be pursued to fulfil a quota. And it isn’t something that we should attempt to capitalize off as a gimmick – not for internet brownie points, and most certainly not for money.
We’ve no doubt that writer/editor Ron Hogan was well-intentioned when he created this fundraiser, in order to make “a conscious commitment to covering more women, more writers of color, and more queer writers.” As someone who has worked in the on-line publishing industry since the early 1990s, Mr. Hogan is no doubt very well informed about the harrowing statistics regarding equal-opportunity publishing, and he evidently feels he’s in a unique position to help “right this imbalance.”
But here’s the thing: we don’t need Mr. Hogan. The entire point of pursuing a diversity of literature is to avoid having to answer to, having to get through to, having to seek approval from the people who hold racial, gendered, and classed privileges (especially not all three!). And as a white male, Mr. Hogan receives privileged status from that system, no matter how much he considers himself to be an ally. He’s asking readers to prove that they want diversity in book reviews by pledging money to the cause; we find that disrespectful. We’ve felt that need, that yearning in ourselves already, every time we’ve failed to find ourselves and our experiences reflected in publications that we respected and admired. Why do we have to prove our longing to anyone?
The premise of his column speaks to that position of privilege: he purports to use the column to his fundraising page starts with this horrifying premise: by doing this, he wants to “prove more diverse coverage won’t undermine meaningful literary discussions.” If he is going to pursue this project with that attitude, doesn’t that completely undermine the notion that these writers are even worth talking about in the first place?
That’s what really struck us. There are so many people making a conscious effort to bring greater attention to marginalized writers, and by and large, they are doing it because this is about community work, about privileging voices that matter. They are doing it because they genuinely believe it needs to be done, and if that means working off-the-clock to do it, so be it. While Quaint offers contributors the option to donate with submission, we distribute 100% of those funds back to contributors. And even still, we’re funding the magazine out of our own pockets. We are not alone in this.
By asking writers of marginalized identities to donate in order to create a space for reviews of our work, you’re essentially asking us to pay to be noticed. It’s not righting the imbalance, it’s tipping the scales with cash taken from the people you’re trying to support. While we agree wholeheartedly that writers, reviewers, and editors deserve to be paid for their work, we can’t ignore context here. Who are we paying, who is profiting, who will be making a name for themselves on the backs of other writers?
So. It wouldn’t do to whinge about such things if we weren’t planning to step up to the plate with a solution of our own, would it? In the spirit of righting wrongs and triumphing over evil, we’ve decided to start our own book review column. We’ll review books by female-identified writers of all stripes, and we’ll consciously commit to a 100% ratio in that regard. We can’t make promises yet on how many reviews we’ll do a month, and if we’re honest, we don’t know entirely where this project will go yet – maybe we’ll accept submitted reviews down the track, but for now they’ll be written by our staff, as and when we can, as often as possible.
So, if you have a book you’d like us to take a look at (poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and everything in-between), hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re excited to read your work, and excited to review it: without a price tag.
(Image credit to Banksy, who probably doesn’t care about image credit).