So what am I doing in this “writing outside your demographic” series? I realize that by “outside your demographic” I secretly mean “a demographic more socially marginalized than you.” So what’s my intention?

  1. I want authors to think about issues of representation, demographics, and Othering in the work that they read and write. This includes both critical engagement with what you’re reading/watching and critical engagement with your own work.
  2. In this series, I’m mostly focusing on writers of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction that has an element of world building. I think many of the topics covered are relevant for wider reasons, but if I’m being self-aware of my own secret agendas, that’s it.

However, here are things that I am not trying to do:

  1. Keep my focus solely on works written by or written about white folks, straight folks, male folks, able-bodied folks, etc.
  2. Neglect critical voices and theory by traditionally marginalized populations.
  3. Reduce creative works down to their creators or the creative intent behind them.

***

So with that in mind, I want to start featuring some resources that may help writers illuminate how demographics, power, and privilege function in literature.

A Book to Read

Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination

by Toni Morrison

Cover to Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark This is a collection of three essays of Morrison’s that look at how race plays out in “canonical” U.S. literature written by white folks. It’s short, important, and revelatory. It was written in 1992, and I am sad that I didn’t discover it until this year, because it gets to the essence of some very important stuff.

[…] I have been thinking about the validity or vulnerability of a certain set of assumptions […] circulated as “knowledge.” This knowledge hold that traditional, canonical American literature is free of, uninformed, and unshaped by the four-hundred-year-old presence of, first, Africans and then African-Americans in the United States.

[…]

The contemplation of this black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination.”

(from her essay “Black Matters”)

Morrison’s arguments are profound and subtle. She engages with race in American literature in a way that incorporates, yet is more than, literary theory. She looks at works by Poe, O’Connor, Melville, Hemingway, and more.

Morrison introduces the term “American Africanism”, which is a shorthand for “the denotative and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify [in the U.S.] as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, reading, and misreading that accompany Eurocentric learning about these people.” (also from “Black Matters”)

It’s only about a hundred pages long, and completely worth your time. Go forth and read it.

 

A Website to Explore

Racialicious

This site features essays by many authors on pop culture and race.

Here’s a sample:

The Hope of Just Representation in Entertainment by refresh_daemon

 

A Video to Watch

Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”