Diversity for Readers and Writers

I had a friend ask me why I chose the blog name “Writing While Black.” She wanted to know why I felt the need to put my race out there. “Won’t that be bad for business?” She asked out loud.

I shrugged. “I don’t know, possibly.”

I don’t know how else to present myself–I’m a Black Woman and I’m a Writer. I’m a Mother and I’m a Writer. My identity is incredibly important to me, and while I’m more than the sum of my parts or the color of my skin, I know that the way that people interact with me is directly impacted by those two things. Besides, there are many African American women who are out there who are phenomenal writers. They don’t hide their identities. Why should I hide mine? If you choose to read my work, I want you to know exactly who you chose. If my skin color and gender somehow make my writing resonate more for you, then I am very pleased indeed.

Two of my favorite writing blogs have been addressing diversity this week. Chuck Wendig has been putting on “Lilith Fair” on his blog, asking his readers (and his readers who just happen to be writers) to consider adding a little more diversity to his bookshelves. The reactions to his directive have been interesting, and even he has been surprised by the feedback that he’s received. I’m always surprised when there is an acute resistance to inclusion in one’s life. It is as if some people really want to live their lives the way that Friends or Girls portrays the world (that the hell do you mean you live in NYC and there are no people of any color around??). When people are asked to step out of their comfort zone and possibly consider other voices in their lives, the pushback is fierce. It seems that the typical reaction is “Why are you telling me to do that? I’m not racist/classist/sexist! I don’t need to do that! I’m not like other people.” I’m dubbing this the “Hilly Holbrook” crowd. People don’t like to have their shortcomings pointed out to them. I totally get that. And reading and writing are, in their nature, extremely personal and introspective. Of course no one wants to have it pointed out to them that they have been, essentially, opting out of whole categories of the cannon for whatever reason.

So I guess I titled my blog in a way that those who would go looking for me would be able to easily find me. I also titled it so that if someone should happen to stumble upon my work, they’d know exactly who I am and what this is. I don’t want to write anonymously. I’m a woman, a mother, a southerner who lives in the north, and yes, I happen to be writing while Black.

My other favorite blog, The Bottled Worder, wrote a wonderful work about blogging that I think has important implications for writing in general. She writes about how important it is to think about just how far our words go when we choose to write and publish. The portion that really struck with me was:

 As I progressed with my blog through the months, I got more and more used to the fact that while it was my day, my reader could be reading at night. While it was summer where I was, my reader could be shaking off snow from his boots somewhere. While the country I was in might be at peace or engaged in a distant war, my reader might be not be in such fortunate circumstances.

I think that is very powerful, not just for my blogging, but also for the fictional work that I write, too. That my words can, in this age (and in ages before, but that’s not the point), be taken anywhere. They could give escape for the woman buried in blankets, sniffling on a sick day. They could give warmth to a young person cold on a winter’s night. They could give pause to a man in a tea shop in across the ocean. They could inspire a young woman on the eve of transition in her life. Ideas and words have power, and their availability has great power as well. I’ll do well to consider this as I continue to read and write, as a blogger and as a fiction writer.

The bottom line is, writing is cool and reading is cooler. We all learn and grow through the power of these personal activities. I’m writing this blog under this auspice because I want my voice and experience to be front and center. My point of view is thus: I’m writing and I’m Black.

I hope that you’ll find the words that I write to be somewhere in the ballpark of politely audacious….interesting yet conspicuous… telling, but not obvious… Like food you just can’t stop eating, because it’s a better  and more interesting version of a dish you thought you knew…

and now I think I need breakfast. Happy and diverse reading and writing!

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