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Monday, January 18, 2010

People of Color in Fiction


Bloomsbury Contact Information (Thanks to Ellen Datlow):

Editorial and Marketing office:
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Phone: 646-307-5151
Fax: 212-780-0115

I sent them an e-mail.  I suggest you do so, too.

I want to bring your attention to a topic that's important to me, not only because I consider myself a person of color, but because to ignore the issue is, I think, to look society in the face and ignore a large swath of the reading public.

Normally, I don't make an issue (by this I mean point it out) of my race.  Why should it matter, really, except to be one possible explanation for who I am (granted, a large part, but not every POC lays claim to any one culture, tastes, or way of life, even if they "look different"--different from whom, at this point, is what I'm curious about).

Many of you are familiar with the recent controversy surrounding the cover of Justine Larbalestier's Liar.  The protagonist is a girl with more melanin in her skin than was shown by the blatantly white model on the cover of the novel (not having read the book yet, I have only gathered that I think she is half-black, half-white).  Luckily, this was only before it was released for purchase.  Larbalestier was professionally outraged and Bloomsbury fixed the problem and changed covers to reflect Micah's skin tone more accurately.

In an open letter to Bloomsbury concerning Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass, Ari from Reading in Color, has put into words what I feel is an important message for publishers everywhere: covers need to start reflecting persons of color in positive ways, but first and foremost, they need to be put on covers where they are the protagonists in the first place!  Have you ever seen a Samuel R. Delaney cover?  Where are the people of color?  Obscured by graphics and text--an easy way out to avoid the representation?  Or, a less angry and presumptuous curiosity: do publishing houses really not think it's important to put protagonists on the cover when other subject matter can be taken into consideration (see: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand or Nova)?

I grew up with very few positive Mexican role models in the media.  If they were there, it was as maids, sex symbols, gardeners; stereotypes that have their base in reality, but are a sorry excuse when it comes to accurate representation for what I saw in society and in my home.  I don't want to say it was painful for me, because I don't remember it being so.  I do, however, remember having a hard time learning to appreciate who I was on the outside because the images I saw and read about had nothing physical I could relate to.  That apparent superficiality is really a claim to a much deeper problem that developed unnoticed until I was in college and began to realize how little I associated myself as Mexican, other than with my family.  And that hurt me.

So let's save, not just the youth of today, because this could impact everyone, but the media presence of people of color by demanding something be done about this.  This is not just a Bloomsbury issue. This is one cover, one book.  There are likely many, many more (I do note when protagonists are light skinned).

Let more people know about Ari's letter.  I will give you the link again.

Next time you read any book, not just YA, take a little time out to notice if there are any people of color (if that distinction is made) and if there are, what their role is and then look at the cover.  Is the protagonist a person of color?  Are they featured on the cover?  And for those of you that think this doesn't matter--that as long as a protagonist is interesting and dynamic enough to drive your curiosity and keep you reading, take into consideration what a little girl with tan skin--darker than all of her friends--with fluffy curly hair (which none of the boys like because it's not straight and fingers don't run easily through it) would think reading about a protagonist who looks nothing like her.  She can't imagine herself as this strong female if she can't picture the similarities.  Albeit she takes away good things: bravery, strength, independence--what does she lose, what does she alienate in the long run, but perhaps, a piece of herself, bit by bit until she can no longer recognize who she really is anymore?


Anonymous said...

Justine Larbalestier has some great articles on her blog that relate to this topic.

And I am glad that people are standing up against the publishers that seemingly want to appeal to the larger market while ostrasizing the smaller. It's wrong to harm or misrepresent people through marketing. So, I find it amazing that people are articulating themselves in such a way that they're actually being heard (as shown by the change of cover in Liar).

Maybe, if the publishers keep hearing complaints, book marketing (especially in speculative fiction) can finally truly open up to all peoples.

Erika said...

@TJ I've seen some of Justine Larbalestier's articles. They're very thoughtful and insightful.

I was surprised when I found out about this latest issue (especially since it's the same publishing company that dealt with Larbalestier's cover) and impressed when Ari wrote her letter. If she hadn't done it, who's to say if anyone would have?

She's an impressive young girl and hopefully publishing companies will take notice--especially Bloomsbury.

Mardel said...

Beautiful Post!

Erika said...

@Mardel Thank you! :)

Lily Child said...

Awesome post Erkia. :) If you have a moment, you should pop on over to http://cleverlyinked.blogspot.com/
There is a post regarding Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass.

Erika said...

Thank you, Lily! I'll go look at it right now :)

MissAttitude said...

Thank you for blogging about this important issue and linking to my letter =)

I hope we see more books about Latinos publsihehd, especialy for teens and that cover the diversity of the Latino culture. I love reading books about Latinos (I'm half Black, half Latina) but I would like to see some more variety, I've read many stories about Mexicans, Cubans and Dominicans. what about Guatemalans, Colombians, Panamanians (that's me!), etc.

Great post!

Erika said...

@MissAttitude Thank you! I wouldn't have written this if it wasn't for your wonderful letter. Thank you so much for stopping by, I'm only too glad more people found out about this. More importantly, the right people! :)

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