Monday, February 7, 2011

"TOC anxiety," and some questions

Rich Villar, from his 2011 AWP presentation, Poets and Editors on Race and Inclusivity:

"Table of Contents Anxiety arises when the first reaction to holding a new journal or anthology in your hands, before you even read one line of literature, is to flip open the Table of Contents and quickly scan it for black folks, or Latinos, or Native Americans, or anything, ANYTHING, besides the usual Smorgasboard of the Unsurprising when it comes to editors and their lists. I know I am not alone in this TOC Anxiety. I know some of you in this room suffer in silence. I know some of you in this room haven't shut up about it since the 1970's. However you deal with your particular anxiety, know that is it very real, and it goes to the heart of this perceived mistrust within the literary community..."

[Click the link above to read Rich's full notes for the presentation.]

Barbara Jane Reyes, contemplating the same subject:

"While I don’t feel particularly ignored or objectified, I know the larger publishing industry isn’t invested in forwarding my community’s stories. And this is precisely why all kinds of independent publishers are born; specific communities’ needs are overlooked, or ignored, or simply inconceivable to the mainstream.

Since I am supposed to be thinking on diversity and publishing, I am thinking now on what it is my specific local community’s needs and demands are. One major factor is maintaining control over the means of production and distribution. Determining what is to be published, what aesthetics, what and whose stories to promote, not waiting for the permission or acceptance of others. Ultimately, there is the need to be independent of the larger, mainstream (USA) American publication industry standards, whether this be profit-driven, dumbed down, politically defanged, or 'white-washed.'

I have blogged about this before, asking for whose benefit we strive for diversity in American publishing. Is it for us marginalized folks, to experience the benevolence and political correctness of mainstream publishing bodies? Or for mainstream publishers to feel good about themselves for their acts of benevolence and political correctness? Does my community particularly care whether one of “us” get published in CV-worthy, prestigious journals or achieve successes within this MFA Industrial Complex? I don’t believe they do. I have been questioning why I choose to remain in this industry, and contradict myself by staying."

[Note: This is just a tiny excerpt from a series of excellent meditations on the subject, all worth reading, at her blog.]

Here's Rich again:

"I've often heard the complaint lodged by editors about writers of color: how can we consider you when you don't submit to us? And I've often heard its retort: How can we submit to you when you never consider us? [...] Where do we seek out new voices? What's the difference between soliciting work and seeking work out? When has a journal gotten too big to see past its own prejudices?

I leave the rest of these answers and questions to the audience here, but in the meantime, it is my hope [that raising these questions] is a beginning, not an ending point, and that constructive dialogues towards parity, inclusivity, and the end of Table of Contents Anxiety, can begin, at AWP, online, at home, in academia, and in the slush piles."


More questions:

What is a mainstream?
If such a thing exists, is it good or bad?
And why?
Who defines what a mainstream is?
Must a writer or artist work with an idea in mind of a mainstream?
Social reality or metaphor, or both?

Addendum: Not a single comment on this post after weeks. Anyway, here's something Rich asked on Facebook: "Since it's been brought up in other places, including in my own work as an editor and curator, do you think it's okay to have exclusively Latino, or exclusively African-American, or exclusively Asian, or exclusively ANYTHING, spaces within literature? I say yes. Unapologetically. But you? What about you?"

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