Today on Code Switch, writer and critic Roxane Gay, who's a favorite of ours, writes about the problem of all-white recommended readings lists.
It also reminded us of an essay from last month by Saeed Jones, literary editor at BuzzFeed. Jones, whose first book of poetry, Prelude To Bruise, came out last year, wrote about being young and black and writerly while navigating literati circles.
"I feel like I'm supposed to feel desperately grateful because there is, in fact, a very long line of other young black writers waiting outside the velvet rope waiting to be let in, one person at a time."
And to Jones, that one-person-at-a-time, velvet-roped line feels dangerous and completely anxiety-inducing (emphasis mine):
"The same evening as that party in Miami, a poet who is also black and gay told me that he'd been so nervous about our books coming out within a month of each other. I couldn't pretend not to understand his anxiety. When literary gatekeepers and publishers continue to overlook the vast diversity of writers, the special few who make it into elite spaces are constantly compared to one another in both flattering and troubling ways. It's an anxiety that straight white men will never know. Could you imagine telling Jonathan Franzen that he can't release his novel because Michael Chabon has one coming out next month? When, in 2015, a new literary magazine manages to emerge with a masthead including almost 40 contributing editors with only two women and no people of color among them, the oxygen starts to get a bit thin. Combing through mastheads and tables of contents for the names of writers who are not straight white men can make you feel crazy. And it is crazy that doing so is still necessary."
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