Don’t Judge a Book by The Author’s Color

I usually don’t post on Wednesdays but I thought this was too important to wait.

While I was driving my car I happened upon an interview with Aimee Phan, the American Vietnamese writer of the 2005 Kiriyama Prize  for her novel We Should Never Meet about the evacuation of thousands of orphans from Vietnam to America weeks before the fall of Saigon.

Source

The CBC interviewer Jian Gomeshi began his interview by saying “We’re told don’t judge a book by its cover but maybe a more important reminder would be don’t judge a book by the author’s color.”

“The editors are the curators, they’re the ones telling the readers what to read and right now writers of colour aren’t making that list,” Phan explains. “These books will actually do wonders if you read them to clear up the misconceptions and give you a fuller, more vibrant picture of a community you may have dismissed before.” 

 You can listen to the entire podcast but if you don’t have time here are some quotes of Aimee Phan from this interview worth thinking about:

In order for the reading public to grow, in order for our interest to grow and progress in literature we need to see new things and try new things.

I think readers need to be more conscious about reading more inclusively.

Literature has a profound potential to influence culture, to how we see each other. and we need to see new things.

What readers’ want is what we’ve been told what they want.

 In an interview with talking writing Aimee Phan states that works by writers of color is by and large ignored by the mainstream media. Few people read literary fiction, and those who do typically turn to critics to discover which books deserve their time. But if those critics are to be believed, few writers of color make the cut.  90 percent of the books reviewed by the New York Times during that time period (2011-2012) were by white writers, leaving a 10 percent sliver for writers of color.

To learn more on Aimee Phan go to http://www.aimeephan.com/

 

Which books from authors of color have you enjoyed?

Do you think that editors and publishers have too much power in decided what’s good literature? 

 

33 thoughts on “Don’t Judge a Book by The Author’s Color

  1. I have been thinking about this topic a lot actually. I saw a Ted Talk by a brilliant woman- I will have to pull up her name- from Africa who talked about how as a child, when she would write, she had to learn how to not make her characters White. Most of the characters she read were White.

  2. I love Salman Rushdie!!! I think the first book I read of his was the satanic verses, because of the Muslim outcry. It was the first time reading such an amazing author. He had woven many individual stories into an amazing novel. As I read more from him you notice that he uses characters between books.

    I don’t know if Gabriel García Márquez counts as non white but again I loved 100 years of solitude.

    Also I read a great novel, the white tiger by Aravind Adiga. He sucks you into his Indian world and holds you there until the end. I haven’t read any more of his but I love his writing style.

    Otherwise I guess I do mostly read white guys, Roth, Updike, Amis, Hemingway. And now that I think about it, I mostly only read men authors! I may have just found out that I am racist as well as sexist. Not a great start to the day!

  3. What a great article, Carol! I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Bonte Sister, and when I reached my teens, historical romances. Although I enjoyed the stories, I was disheartened to see so few interracial romances, or authors of color. My entire family is a melting pot of cultures and I think it’s a more realistic reflection of relationships and why all my stories are interracial.

    I’m delighted now to see so many people of color (and cultures) on book covers as well as authors when I go to writing conferences. It makes me smile. We have a long way to go, but I feel like we’re farther than we were ten years ago.

    Social media platforms and the self publishing market (I feel) will eventually win over the opinions of editors and publishers. It’s already happening. Look at all the successful stories that editors and publishers said wouldn’t sell?

    • You’re right. With self publishing market, we’re bound to see more books written by authors of different cultures.
      Now, it’s also a question of getting people to buy them:)

      • How right you are, Carol! That’s where sharpening your networking and marketing skills comes in. Something I’m still working on myself. LOL!

        Once you get them buying, you’ll find getting them to write a review will be the next challenge. 🙂

  4. Good of you to put this out here Carol. I never would have seen it like this. Of course I think publishers hold too much power in what gets published, hence the self-pub revolution. But I personally would never read solely on race or colour and unknowingly, there are plenty of books read by people who have no idea what ‘colour’ the author is. It is sad to think that anyone would base the decision to read a book on those issues.

    • I don’t think it’s so much that people don’t read a book by authors of color. Phan is arguing that 90% of mainstream published books are by white authors.
      Of course, it would be interesting to look at the percentage of writers of color versus white writers. That’s another issue altogether.
      But I do tend to agree with her that we are often told what we should be reading by a small minority of people. I think this is why self-publishing is taking off as it is.
      Thanks for commenting:)

  5. This is really an eye-opener. You often hear about gender-bias in literature but not as much about color-bias, when in fact, it’s obviously a much greater issue, particularly in relation to what gets published and reviewed and what doesn’t.

    • Yes, listening to the interview made me realize how subtle prejudice can be. But it also made me think how many good books are out there that will never get published because one editor decided it was crap (there’s a whole list of well known writers who got plenty of rejections).
      Self publishing at least can put these books out but it still doesn’t guarantee that they will be read.

  6. It’s great when reading opens our eyes to new and engaging flavors, tastes, and perspectives on life, but I’m not persuaded that the level of prejudice is as extreme as Phan claims. I can think of any number of books of recent vintage written by or about people of color:

    The Kite Runner
    Slum Dog Millionaire
    The Color Purple
    12 Years a Slave
    Maya Angelou
    Toni Morrison’s novels ~ Beloved, etc.
    Life of Pi

    I expect that Phan, like most authors, would like a larger readership for her words. Perhaps she hopes to expand their ranks by claiming “discrimination.”

      • You raised another good issue above:

        “. . .it would be interesting to look at the percentage of writers of color versus white writers. That’s another issue altogether.”

        Thanks for sharing.

  7. What a wonderful topic. I love Toni Morrison’s, The Bluest Eye and Beloved. Also, Life of Pi. For me, it doesn’t make any difference at all. I do think that Publisher’s have too much say. It should be a panel that reads a book, because if your genre happens to be one the reader doesn’t care for, it could be detrimental to your work.

  8. A great post and a valid point. I was going to say that I didn’t *think* I had read any books written by authors of colour, but I wouldn’t know about all of them. Then I saw one of the above comments and remembered I had read the Kite Runner (not a huge percentage in my reading I grant you) and have downloaded 12 years a slave. I have also been recently intrigued by crime fiction from different countries and cultures so have been looking and chinese crime fiction amongst others for future reading. But it is a really valid point and one I have heard on the Radio 4 book podcast before.

  9. I read four writers like a religion, they happen to be white (and I’m black). I happen to have a thing for these writers because of the intriguing, thrilling way they write, their work reading like a movie.

    Well, I do have a few black writers whom I can’t miss their work, and that’s because they write thrilling stories that reads like a movie. I’m just tired of African writing about politics, tribal clashes, colonialism, neo-colonialism, and what-have-you, things that African publishers love.

      • Well, James Patterson tops the list; the others (not to mean are any less important) are Iris Johansen, Dan Brown and Jodi Picoult (then not very long ago I stumbled on Carol Balawyder).

        For the black ones Jackson Biko (also a journalist), Kenyan, is my number one; then there is Tony Mochama, Kenya, (I have a thing for journalists) follows – at least for the modern arena of writers in the country right now. Though the others are ol’ skool and dead, Chinua Achebe is still a legend, then Okot p’Bitek.

      • Wow, you certainly have a long list. There are many I’ve never heard of so I’ll have to check them out.
        You might enjoy a book I’ve just finished by some wordpress bloggers: Voices From The Block. I wrote a review on Amazon.com and Good reads. .
        As for mentioning me on your list, that’s very generous of you.
        Have a great day. 🙂

  10. Interesting post and topic. I find it a little confusing to have colour and culture put into the same basket. Maybe we come at it differently in the UK. I am sure you are right that fewer writers from minority groups in America or Europe get published and reading across cultural divides would really make a difference in our understanding of different communities. Khaled Hoseini’s, The Reluctant Fundamentalist; Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun; Dave Eggers (he is white, but his co-author is Sudanese), The What; Alaa al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, have told me about parts of the world that I had never experienced. Then you have books like Andrea Levy’s A Small Island, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth or Monica Ali’s Brick Lane which tell you about cultural differences in your own community. I also leant much from Salman Rusdie’s, Midnight’s Children and I haven’t even begun on the American cannon. There is plenty to read from people of all cultures, we must just keep buying these books and publishers will respond.

    • Oh, Hilary, you’ve given me such a rich list of authors to read. I like how you phrased ,”have told me about parts of the world I have never experienced.”
      I agree so strongly with you that” reading across cultural divides would really make a difference in our understanding of different communities.”
      By letting these cultures into our lives we become more open and I believe better people.
      Thank you again for commenting. I always find your comments stimulating.
      I hope your writing is progressing 🙂

  11. I must plead guilty to reading mystery, and mainstream fiction, as well as nonfiction, by mostly white guys – Chandler, Hammett, Fleming, Greene, Maugham, Simon Winchester, Bryan Magee et al. As for my other favorite genre, the cozy mystery, it tends to be dominated by white women. Quite an eye opener for me. Thanks for writing on the topic. With this in mind I’ll have to check out some of the titles on Hilary’s list!
    As for editors, publishers, and I suppose agents too, holding too much power over what gets published, of course I think they do, and thus in my case the self-pub route.

    • I also like crime fiction. It’s really my favorite genre. I mostly like the hard-boiled fiction of Chandler, Hammett and Cain. I haven’t read much of the cozy mystery.
      I’m in the process of developing another series for my blog on the Femme Fatale in crime fiction but written by women novelists.There too my research is showing me mostly white women.

      Although I’m querying agents and publishers I’m also considering the self pub route.

      Thanks for reading and especially for commenting. 🙂

I'd love to hear your comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s