Larry at OF Blog of the Fallen had an old post when RaceFail ’09 was still generating a lot of heat. I didn’t come across it at the time, but I’ve hit it now, and reading it over, it had me thinking about some things. I’ll just post and play:
1. Name the last book by a female author that you’ve read.
You know, the hardest thing about this is remembering the order in which I’ve read things. They all seem to clump up in a “recently” folder in my head. I’m pretty sure it was Catherynne Valente’s The Habitation of the Blessed. I am, however, expecting an MS from Carrie Vaughn pretty soon here.
2. Name the last book by an African or African-American author that you’ve read.
Easy. The Jewel-Hinged Jaw by Samuel Delaney (as assigned me by David Hartwell). About which more when I’ve sat with it for a bit.
3. Name one from a Latino/a author.
Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking Glass World by Eduardo Galeano. But my *favorite* South American author is Enrique Anderson Imbert.
4. How about one from an Asian country or Asian-American?
Hmm. Well, Ted Chiang’s The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate, I guess. Before that Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. But I can’t think of two books I’ve read in recent memory that have less in common than those two.
And oddly, I feel very uncomfortable characterizing Ted by his genetics. He’s a friend of mine. I admire him no end. I’m pretty sure his ancestors spent some of the Pleistocene in Asia. So . . . all right. Sure.
5. What about a GLBT writer?
Jeanette Winterson. The Passion. I read it again every few years. Gorgeous book. The Darling Wife also got me David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk which I’ve grazed a little. For non-fiction, I’m a real fan of Nora Vincent’s Self-Made Man.
6. Why not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you’re feeling lucky?
Saladin Ahmed is going to be the first one that comes to mind because I need to get back to his book and finish it. Soon. Probably instead of doing this, actually. It’s a good one, and it’s got to be going into production soon here. But if the question is about an Arab who doesn’t live in New York, it’ll be Edward Said’s Reflections on Exile. And that was a few years back.
As for Israeli authors, I’ve got a bunch of Jews on the shelf, but none that I’m sure live in Israel.
7. Any other “marginalized” authors you’ve read lately?
You see, there’s where I get confused. I’ve done the exercise — I can indeed name a bunch of authors who I’ve read and enjoyed and have here on my shelf where I can see them — and I think I haven’t actually proven anything. Or even given anything very strong evidence. I am perfectly willing to believe that someone could read all the books I have and come away just as racist and sexist as they went in. It’s fun to remember these particular books by these particular writers, and I hope folks who are interested go out and read ‘em themselves because they’re good. But I don’t think my reading list can give me any kind of free pass or authority on matters of privilege. I think the impulse to demonstrate my political awareness and empathy is itself suspect.
But that’s not the only thing about this particular exercise that’s interesting to me. And by interesting, I mean troubling.
When I think of marginalized authors — marginalized — I don’t find myself thinking about people of a certain race or sexuality or political class. By the time I pop over to Amazon.com or wander through my local Barnes and Noble, the folks nearest the margin have already been weeded out. Everyone I’ve mentioned in this post has a book deal. Has distribution. Has a pulpit from which to declaim their point of view. I like Junot Diaz. By which I mean I like his writing and I enjoyed his company the one time we hung out. He writes from a perspective and with a voice that is both deeply familiar (role-playing game geek) and very much outside my experience (Dominican-American). But the guy’s won a Pulitzer, he’s on the Pulitzer committee, and he’s teaching at an ivy league college. If he, as an individual, is marginalized, I have misunderstood the term. At a guess, I’d say that the most utterly outside voice I’ve mentioned was Galeano, and he’s got nine or ten books in print here in the United States.
We live in a racist, sexist, homophobic culture. We as individuals are racist and sexist and homophobic, myself included. And in addition to that (not but but and) the voiceless are voiceless. By the time I’ve heard them, they aren’t anymore. The thing I’ve read most recently by a genuinely marginalized author probably read something like: Homeless Veteran. Anything will help. God Bless!