Continuing from yesterday I have some other thoughts.
Whenever issues about representation come up in the lit world I always see editors/staff of various lit zines saying they don’t know what to do or how to deal.
I am going to try not to be an asshole here but really?
Here’s what I think editors can do to address issues of representation in their magazines. There will be some hyperbole. I think everybody is smart enough to roll with that.
- Take a subjective look at your contributor list. Open up your zine and look at it from the point of view of a potential submitter. If you look at your list are all your contributors white heterosexual males with MFA’s? Take a hard look. In this case don’t cut yourself any slack. Look at it the way I would. I am not a white heterosexual male with an MFA, that being what it is if going back say ten issues, if that is the majority what would make someone like me go ahead and submit? Be honest. Understand that when one is in the marginalized position, writing about marginalized people any magazine that is clearly (on purpose or “by accident”, I’ll get to that) not inclusive of or about in any visible way marginalized people, why would that story belong? Yes as I said yesterday it’s hard but sometimes necessary.
- Understand that sometimes what we tell ourselves is just an aesthetic preference can be the uh, let’s say wrapping on other issues. For instance. I’ll use myself as an example. Once upon a time yours truly was really into a now defunct lady site. I was in a long email conversation about me being a book reviewer with the founder. At some point after she discovered (most likely while looking at my blog) that I am a Black woman all of a sudden her focus turned to making sure I understood that she wasn’t super comfortable featuring “urban lit” books on the site. This coming from a White person to me, is like a cup full of unchecked privilege and the down low flavor of racism I hate the most. Sometimes, it is far better as an editor to just say I am uncomfortable with these stories about people so different from me- if you aren’t brutally honest with yourself sometimes things will not change. I have had the same sort of experience for an erotica writing job where the editor found out that I am personally really fucking queer and proceeded to let me know he was looking for heterosexual stories which was implicit because it was a heterosexual marketed to couples website.
- Take the leap. If you know your readership is mainly middle class white folks and the demographics tell you they really love all things David Foster Wallace maybe that’s all you want to publish. That’s fine. However again, be honest about that in your guidelines. These things are not hyperbole. This comes from experience on my part. Among my hundreds of rejections I’ve heard everything from editors being uncomfortable with the way I’ve presented racism and reactions to racism, uncomfortable with the “type” of queers in a story, etc etc. Be honest.
- If you are uncomfortable and can be honest with yourself about that the next thing to do is figure out what you want to do. You can do whatever you want, it’s your publication you can publish whatever you wanna publish. If you want to make a change it’s hard. It’s hard to step outside of your usual tastes. It’s part of the reason a lot of writers of color or women writers tend to go unread by a lot of people. What I”m talking about is this. If only one narrative or one type of story moves you, maybe that’s an issue. Maybe you should give other voices a shot at your attention.
- If you are unable to expand your views about what is and isn’t good or fitting for your zine. Get another editor with a totally different view point. Invite guest editors in for an issue to get in the types of stories you might not personally be into.
- Be aware that different from your aesthetic doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Different doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality of work you publish goes down. If people question you about it, question them right back.
Y’all are smart. You can figure it out from there.
I also want to talk a little about one of the other reactions I see from people when issues of representation come up. The awesome idea that if one is not getting published, it’s because you suck.
One of the things that makes me angry in art circles is the whole idea that if something isn’t just like the classics or media hyped greats, it just sucks. If it’s written by and about women it sucks, if it’s written by and about a minority then White people don’t like it, if it’s erotic or even have raw real good sex in it it’s shit etc etc.
Fuck that and really fuck you if that’s how you think.
Frankly I feel that literature and art is too fucking important to get stuck on making grand pronouncements or judgements based on individual tastes. Outside of marketing I don’t think it matters. Don’t like what I write? Great don’t read me. Don’t read me but don’t then run around saying how much I suck because you don’t like my style, formatting, word or subject matter choice etc.
I’m of course using the “me” and “I” there not in a personal manner.
I see a lot of worry in the industry about the state of publishing and books etc. The internet, indie or alt lit etc are not what will kill books. These attitudes, the holier and better than thou attitudes will be the death of literature.
Let’s not do that.
The art and beauty of literature in all of those variants you might hate or think are shit, are what makes literature great. Don’t kill it.