Sunday, March 15, 2015

I Challenge You to Stop Reading Economically Privileged Authors for One Year?

Like most voracious readers, I thought I read diversely when I was young because I didn't care about an author's race or gender. In the 1960s, Andre Norton was one of the first science fiction writers who I loved, and once I had found my favorite genre, I fell in love with writers like Ursula Le Guin and Zenna Henderson. When I was fourteen, my favorite writer in the universe was Samuel R. Delany. Around that time, outside my beloved genre, I was reading people like Ralph Ellison, Malcolm X, Oscar Wilde, and Mary Renault. But apparently, there are readers who mostly read white, straight, cis male writers. K. Tempest Bradford seems to be one; she's crying, I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.

Neil Gaiman said, "For anyone hoping for outrage, I think that @tinytempest's article at … is great, & don't mind being the posterbook."

But one of the people responding to him, brianbeise, noted, "too bad for young white male authors still looking for their readers."

Brianbeise sees what Gaiman misses: Established white male writers can afford to be amused by calls for limiting one's reading based on race and gender; their books will still be available in another year. But most writers get a narrow window of attention, and then their work slips away if the promotional efforts on their behalf have not succeeded.

This is one of the rarely spoken truths of publishing: Most writers come from backgrounds of economic privilege. This includes Bradford, who was privileged enough to go to New York University, one of the most expensive schools in the US. It includes Gaiman. It includes Le Guin and Delany. And it includes me.*

When I was reading Le Guin and Delany, I never noticed their economic backgrounds. Class is such a taboo in the US that people just don't talk about it. You have to look for clues, like the schools they attended or their casual allusions to traveling to distant countries or attending far-off conventions for fun rather than because their bosses sent them there.

The subtitle of Bradford's piece is "I thought: What if I only read stories by a certain type of author?" The answer is, "You will miss great work outside your echo chamber."

Now, I don't challenge anyone to stop reading anything. But I suggest that when you think about reading more diversely, you think about more than skin and religion and sexual preference. If you want to try eliminating some writers for a year, eliminate people like Tempest and me who were luckier than most people who want to write. It's not always easy to tell who we are, but so far, the writers I've seen promote Bradford's notion have been writers like Benjanun Sriduangkaew who believe poor white men are privileged and rich women of color are oppressed—avoiding any of those writers for a year couldn't hurt.

* For more about my economic background: A short autobiography by Will Shetterly

ETA: A general point about class-based solutions versus race and gender based solutions: A class-based solution will disproportionately help women and people of color because our society is racially and genderly disproportionate, so if your concern is about women and people of color getting help, a class-based solution will help them while it also helps poor white people and poor men whose social identity did not keep them from the lower rungs of the economic ladder.