Thursday, October 26, 2006

Racism in Publishing, Revisited

I blogged earlier this summer about American writer Millenia Black's struggles with her publisher. In a nutshell: Millenia Black, who is African-American, turned in a book that was under contract, and except for one 'tiny' little detail, the book was acceptable (ie. well-written and publishable under the terms of the contract). The tiny detail? They wanted her to change her characters from white to black. Millenia refused.

She has now announced that she is suing her publisher.

Being an unpublished writer means that my understanding of the publishing industry is limited to 2nd and 3rd hand information. I say this because the implication from some is that the decision to change the race of the characters in Millenia's book was a simple marketing decision, one that's done all the time in publishing. If that's the case, why doesn't NYT bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, who blogged about this same issue a few months ago here and here, have to change the race of her characters from white to asian? Why isn't Sue Monk Kidd, a white American writer whose NTY bestselling debut featured black characters, shelved under African-American fiction?

This is what I believe: People should be treated with respect even if we disagree with them. Sadly, the reaction to Millenia's news hasn't been quite so evenhanded; some people have even implied that the lawsuit is an attempt to garner attention for her upcoming novel.

Clearly niche publishing/marketing is a complex issue, one that evokes strong feelings on all sides. (For some interesting discussion on this issue, please take a look at Monica Jackson's blog, or the comment trail in Millenia's last few posts. There are lots of links and trackbacks to other blogs, and the discussion ranges from illuminating to infuriating.)

Ultimately I find the issue, at its core, fairly straightforward: Millenia is saying that she feels that being forced to manipulate a text that she wrote with white characters into black ones based solely on *her* race is wrong.

And I agree.

In an environment where it's more and more difficult to get published - and to stay published - Millenia has put absolutely everything on the line. And *that* takes guts.

I wish her the best of luck with her lawsuit.

Maia

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