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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: racefail, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Portraying people of color in children’s/YA fantasy–are we anywhere near “there” yet?

3/21/2012, ETA: Because this post has been linked a lot over the course of the last several months, I just wanted to point out that this was posted when I was in the process of starting the small press that became Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, where we publish middle grade and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and mystery starring main characters of color. We’ve published five books so far, and I think you’ll love them. If you believe, as I do, that more stories like these are important—awesome fantastic adventures in which people of color are the stars—please check them out and share them with your friends.

***

When I was in the fourth grade, I always wondered why I wasn’t born Japanese. You see, back then (mid-80s), the news was always saying that the Japanese had the best education system in the world, and that Americans were falling behind. Given that my life goal at the time was to be the smartest kid in the world, I really, really wished that I had been born Japanese.

Nothing I could do about that, but I could do my geography project on Japan. (I was in the accelerated group, and we did countries of the world instead of state history in the fourth grade. I also did Australia and India.) But the only resources I could find in our relatively small school library were a decade-old encyclopedia and several books from the 50s. I ended up making a small English-Japanese dictionary with about five words (which I still have around here somewhere) for my project to go along with the report.

I can’t recall having read one single book from the time I was able to read until the time I graduated high school about any character who was from an Asian country or about an American whose family background was Asian, however. There just wasn’t anything like that available to me in small-town farm country in Illinois. I’m sure this is as much to do with librarian/teacher selection as it had to do with publishing availability, but that’s just the way things were.

Looking at the CCBC’s report from last year of books published in 2008, however, I’m not sure we’ve come very far from that. We’ve come a long way, yet how far is there to go?

Ever since Race Fail 09 (which I didn’t follow much of, but even reading a part of which was very thought-provoking), I’ve become even more aware of this issue as it relates to fantasy than I have before (even though before that, as an editor, I always tried to acquire books that were as diverse as possible, whether that meant magic-wielding kender or girls from all over the world battling vampiric fairies). I’ve pondered on it for several months, and it’s been great to see so many authors pondering on it in their blogs, too. Just in the last few days, I’ve found a couple great posts on it by authors R.J. Anderson and Mitali Perkins (Mitali has a lot of great insights into this, as you can see from her blog).

The biggest thing I’ve been pondering is that it seems to me that in children’s and YA fantasy, we’re probably at a smaller percentage of multicultural themes and characters than realistic books (note that I’m conflating race and culture here on purpose—I’m using race and culture in an and/or way). Note how in the CCBC report, they

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2. A little more info, but not much

If you're my friend on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, you will know that I've revealed the big secret I've been keeping: That I'm starting a small press with a friend. I don't feel ready to give many details about it yet because I'm still working on the website and a variety of details related to the business side of things, but I did want to give you a little more information, so as not to be all teasing about it. I just don't want to count any chickens, etc.--so I can only give you the bare bones until I have something I can point people to.

I've been considering this possibility for years--it's actually been a dream of mine since perhaps college or a few years after I graduated. When I was laid off from Mirrorstone, I looked for a job in New York City publishing, but I was laid off right before all the layoffs were starting there, which meant that what few job openings were still around were hard to come by, and most other places were either in a hiring freeze or preparing for possible layoffs. I moved to Utah to freelance while I figured out what my next step was. I considered becoming an agent, which is a common path for editors in my position, but that didn't feel right either.

In the mean time, as you know if you read this blog, I've been critiquing manuscripts directly for authors, teaching the occasional community writing seminar (remember: worldbuilding seminar at the end of this month!), and providing freelance editorial services to a variety of publishers--mostly copyediting and proofreading. But even the freelancing is drying up these days--as publishers cut back, they pull all their freelance services in-house, piling more work on the editors they still have left. I enjoy helping new writers, but I like seeing the whole process, having the end result of a printed book to share with readers. I love being an in-house editor.

I'm still sending submissions to Tor--and am still looking for agented submissions for that, and for books by authors with whom I've worked in the past (including requesting a full manuscript or revisions)--but that isn't a full-time thing.

One of the issues in fantasy publishing in the last six months or so have been about how fantasy is typically white, and its gotten me thinking (and plotting) about doing something more specific within that particular segment of the market. Racefail, especially, got me thinking about how children's and YA fantasy and science fiction, while we're working on becoming more representative of the readers, still don't always reach the kids from various multicultural backgrounds. (Don't even get me started on the all-white casting of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie.) Most of the kids I know who love fantasy are white/of a European Caucasian, and no wonder, because they are the kids most likely to identify with the characters in children's and YA fantasy. But how can we reach Latino kids? Do Asian-American kids identify with most of the fantasy that's out there? Dont kids of all kinds of backgrounds read many non-Western stories, and cant those stories be told in a way that reaches a wide range of modern American kids? There are some great books out there that do this--and I want to contribute to making more of them possible.

I love all sorts of fantasy, including fantasy with white characters, whether or not it's inclusive of multiculturalism. But there's so much already out there, and I got to wondering how we might be able to bring what is currently a niche market (most multicultural books are nonfiction or realism) and combine it with the adventure, romance, magic, forward-thinking, and all the other awesome things that fantasy and science fiction provide to readers, bringing out more stories with characters of all sorts of cultural backgrounds.

So that's the thinking behind the small presspublishing multicultural fantasy and science fiction. I've been working on a business plan, with all the intricacies involved in that, with a business partner (who is also a good friend) who cares about these things as well. We've got a site reserved and are working on submission guidelines, and we're working on a number of processes necessary to starting the business. In addition to the publishing part of the business, we've also got a lot of ideas about how to get involved in the community, locally and throughout the country. We want to be a force for good not only in awareness of the issues, but in just bringing good books out to all sorts of readers no matter what their cultural inspiration. Once we have those things in place, I'll be able to tell you more details like what kinds of stories we're looking for and how to submit, and where to submit to, and all those things that you'll want to know. I will continue to critique individual authors' work and freelancing until we make an official announcement about what we're looking for.

It takes a lot of money to start a publishing company, even a small press, no matter how important the cause. With that in mind, I've added a button on the sidebar for anyone who believes in what we're doing and would like to donate to the effort. It's not by any means something I'll push--this will be my last mention of it in the blog--I just thought that if anyone was interested and wanted to, I'd make the option available. If you also believe in expanding fantasy and science fiction to be more inclusive, please consider helping out. All donations will go into the capital fund for the small press.

Hope that answers at least a few questions about what we're hoping to do, at least until we have an official company presence on the web to direct you to.

If you're my friend on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, you will know that I've revealed the big secret I've been keeping: That I'm starting a small press with a friend. I don't feel ready to give many details about it yet because I'm still working on the website and a variety of details related to the business side of things. But I did want to give you a little more information, so as not to be all teasing about it. I just don't want to count any chickens, etc.--so I can only give you the bare bones until I have something I can point people to.

I've been considering this possibility for years--it's actually been a dream of mine since perhaps college or a few years after I graduated. When I was laid off from Mirrorstone, I looked for a job in New York City publishing, but I was laid off right before all the layoffs were starting there, which meant that what few job openings were still around were hard to come by, and most other places were either in a hiring freeze or preparing for possible layoffs. I moved to Utah to freelance while I figured out what my next step was. I considered becoming an agent, which is a common path for editors in my position, but that didn't feel right either.

In the mean time, as you know if you read this blog, I've been critiquing manuscripts directly for authors, teaching the occasional community writing seminar (remember: worldbuilding at the end of this month!), and providing freelance editorial services to a variety of publishers--mostly copyediting and proofreading. But even the freelancing is drying up these days--as publishers cut back, they pull all their freelance services in-house, piling more work on the editors they still have left. I enjoy helping new writers, but I like seeing the whole process, having the end result of a printed book to share with readers. I love being an in-house editor.

I'm still sending submissions to Tor--and am still looking for agented submissions for that, and for books by authors with whom I've worked in the past (including requesting a full manuscript or revisions)--but that isn't a full-time thing, and a lot of the discussions in the last six months or so of how white fantasy is have gotten me thinking (and plotting) about doing something more specific to that particular segment of the market. Racefail, especially, got me thinking about how children's and YA fantasy and science fiction, while we're working on becoming more representative of the readers, still don't always reach the kids from various multicultural backgrounds. Most of the kids I know who love fantasy are white/of a European Caucasian, and no wonder, because they are the kids most likely to identify with the characters in children's and YA fantasy. How can we reach Latino kids? Do Asian-American kids identify with the fantasy that's out there? Do kids of all kinds of backgrounds read many non-Western stories, and can those stories be told in a way that reaches a wide range of modern American kids? There are some great books out there that do this--and I wonder how I can contribute to making more of them possible.

I love all sorts of fantasy, including fantasy with white characters, whether or not it's inclusive of multiculturalism. But there's so much already out there, and I got to wondering how we might be able to bring what is currently a niche market (most multicultural books are nonfiction or realism) and combine it with the adventure, romance, magic, forward-thinking, and all the other awesome things that fantasy and science fiction provide to readers, bringing out more stories with characters of all sorts of cultural backgrounds.

So that's the thinking behind the small press. I've been working on a business plan, with all the intricacies involved in that, with a business partner (who is also a good friend) who cares about these things as well. We've got a site reserved and are working on submission guidelines, and we're working on a number of processes necessary to starting the business. We've got a lot of ideas about how to get involved in the community, locally and throughout the country. We want to be a force for good not only in awareness of the issues, but in just bringing good books out to all sorts of readers no matter what their cultural inspiration. Once we have those things in place, I'll be able to tell you more details like what kinds of stories we're looking for and how to submit, and where to submit to, and all those things that you'll want to know.

I will continue to critique individual authors' work and freelancing until we make an official announcement about what we're looking for. As we get started, things will be tight for a while. It takes a lot of money to start a publishing company, even a small press. With that in mind, I've been pondering on it, and I've added a button on the sidebar of my main site for anyone who believes in what we're doing and would like to donate to the effort. It's not by any means something I'll push--this will be my last mention of it in the blog--I just thought that if anyone was interested and wanted to, I'd make the option available. All donations will go into the capital fund for the small press.

Hope that answers at least a few questions about what we're hoping to do, at least until we have an official company presence on the web to direct you to.

 Originally published at Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. 

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