SHE LIT: Another Famous Author Complains About Diversity 😒

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Pity for White male authors continues as Joyce Carol Oates joins tone-deaf chorus

Famous White female author Joyce Carol Oates tweeted a weeks-old op-ed from The New York Times about the banned books movement. Like famous White male author James Patterson earlier this summer complaining about the lack of “52-year-old White male authors,” Joyce stuck her foot in her mouth by expressing the hardships young White male authors are dealing with now due to the social justice movement around banned books.

In her July 24 tweet that has an estimated 12,200 likes, Joyce says she’s been hearing from a literary agent friend that young White male authors are having a hard time getting their debut novels in front of editors. These editors, according to her tweet referring to one unnamed literary agent, are no longer interested in reading these works because of the writers’ race and gender.

It’s problematic having these very established authors express their opinions about diversity, equity, and inclusion in publishing based on what a friend, who most likely is also White, is telling them in confidence. Non-White authors have always had a more difficult time to even get to the first step of attaining a literary agent, so saying White authors are having issues getting their books published doesn’t sound believable.

For some of the most active women of color authors on Twitter, The 1619 Project creator and journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones ripped Joyce for using an anonymous source and wanting “to be oppressed so badly.” Romance novelist Courtney Milan reminded us that Joyce told fantasy YA author and publisher Dhonielle Clayton in 2017 “to start her own publishing company if she felt excluded” and added that Joyce is a “racist.”

Joyce doubled down in another tweet, saying, “This is what is most astonishing about writers like Rimbaud, Keats, Hemingway, Carson McCullers, John Cheever, John Updike–they began writing well so young, & some might argue that their strongest writing was their earliest.” So, she’s implying publishing overall is in trouble because in her opinion the industry is losing its brightest stars, which historically have been overwhelmingly White male.

All this hoopla is swirling as Netflix announced its film adaptation of Joyce’s 2000 biographical fiction book Blonde, based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. The press around the film, which is expected to be available for streaming later this year, seems to be unaffected by the #BookTwitter controversy.

Publishing her first novel in 1963, Joyce, now 84, has written 58 books with five of those, including Blonde, becoming finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Though she’s considered an industry treasure, her off-the-cuff remarks in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion reached a height with this recent fiasco.

Banned books across the political and racial spectrum are causing concerns. The NYT op-ed that was referenced in Joyce’s Twitter argument mentions how books featuring and written by Black and queer authors are seeing bans across the country while former Vice President Mike Pence’s book deal saw protests from Simon & Schuster employees.

Dana Canedy, who recently stepped down as S&S publisher, stood her ground to support Pence’s book though she’s Black. As a journalist, she knew that the Trump administration official’s story as well as stories by Black nonfiction authors are needed to fight censorship.

While there is data on how people of color are largely underrepresented as publishing industry employees and as authors and illustrators, the data is not showing any issues with White male authors not being given book deals. If you look at most literary agencies where the majority of agents are usually White female, almost their entire clientele is White with other dominating identities such as cisgender, heterosexual, Christian or atheist.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is an overarching problem; the only thing now is the underrepresented groups in publishing are louder in their fight for equality and balance thanks to social media. Bookstores may be prioritizing books by people of color and by LGBTQIA+ authors in the front of their windows now because they never had done that before. At the end of the day, it’s the publishing industry’s duty to make sure all stories, if well-balanced and fair, are published to represent all readers.

Saying you heard from your friend in the industry that an unproven trend is happening is not helpful to the discourse. At least, wait for the data to prove the trend, then we can have that conversation on censorship.

she lit editor + chief content creator

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