Good morning, book people!
Some more whitewashing discussion on The Hunger Games this morning. This post by author Malinda Lo (Ash) makes some great points–Lo discusses color and class, and reading cues for racial background. Here’s the description of Katniss from early in the book:
straight black hair, olive skin [and]… gray eyes
That could definitely be taken as ambiguous, though with that, and the fairness of Katniss’ mother and Prim, I’ve always read her as biracial–particularly since she shares the “Seam look” with the rest of District 12, and her mother and Prim do not. (To my mind, she also identifies more with the Seam than with her family.) Make sure you read the comments on Lo’s post, too.
JJ, an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s, talks about her read of Katniss as white over at Uncreate Conscience. I don’t agree with her whole post, but it is a thoughtful critique worth reading. An important point from the conclusion:
Here’s a question I have about speculative fiction (including science fiction and fantasy): if race is not specifically mentioned, or the world has a different idea of “race” than ours, how does one go about indicating ethnicity? If it’s important to the author that a character in a work of spec fic be of a specific race, how can one indicate that? If ethnicity isn’t important, what can s/he do to change the default assumption of “whiteness”?
At the WSJ, Jeffrey Trachtenberg fills us in on a Random House/THQ Inc. deal. THQ is a developer and publisher of “interactive entertainment software” (read: video games). It’s mostly paid content, so it might be worth stopping by a Starbucks with your laptop/phone/iPad if ebooks and interactive books/games are your cup of tea (or coffee).
Over at Lightning + Lightning Bugs, agent Weronika Janczuk posts more about agents and self-publishing. Some useful commentary, some nice summations. Expect a few more posts like this–as my friend Livia pointed out at our last critique group meeting, a lot of agents were putting out their thoughts about ebooks and self-publishing last week. True, it’s probably not all tied into the Amanda Hocking news, but her St. Martin’s deal has lent a certain amount of legitimacy to self-publishing–legitimacy I think the big houses and agents have been waiting for (but unwilling to bet on) for a while.
Cory Doctorow has a new column up at PW, on the “the Baroque process of getting a book listed on both Lulu and Amazon.” It’s long, but Definitely Worth Reading. If you read only one thing from this list today, make it this piece.
And finally, a bit of fun–bookish webcomic Unshelved reviewed Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan last week. Here’s a snippet; click through for more. (via Scott Westerfeld)Read More
Good morning, book people! It’s daylight savings in Massachusetts now – and this is the second day we’ve slept in! Of course, it can’t all be blamed on daylight savings–there were several hours’ worth of screaming toddler, too. And now for something completely different…
Author Maureen Johnson ran a hugely successful campaign–over $14,000 worth of successful–to raise money for disaster relief in Japan this weekend. Although her campaign is now closed, you can still donate to Shelterbox. Never heard of Shelterbox? Here’s why they’re awesome:
We respond instantly to natural and manmade disasters by delivering boxes of aid to those who are most in need. Each box supplies an extended family of up to 10 people with a tent and essential equipment to use while they are displaced or homeless.
In January The Hunger Games movie was given a release date–and now it may have its lead actress. Variety is reporting that Lionsgate is close to reaching a deal with blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned actress Jennifer Lawrence. I’ve written about why The Hunger Games needs an actress who’s closer to Katniss in terms of physical description in the past–and I stand by that now. Lawrence may be a skilled actress, but casting someone who’s clearly not “olive-skinned” to play Katniss is a Big Deal. Why? From my original piece (at PopMatters):
Although physical description is, generally speaking, a less-significant detail, Katniss’ status as a non-white heroine is important because she’s that rare commodity: a big time, mainstream non-white heroine.
Over at the Blue Rose Girls, a bit of fun - pictures from a children’s book bar! The murals are by Ludwig Bemelmans, the original illustrator for the Madeline books. I love Madeline – and the pics are definitely worth a look.
At The Guardian, David Barnett fills us in on the latest genre wars – as in last year’s Franzenfreude, the fracas is all about marginalization. Author Stephen Hunt is accusing the BBC of bias against his genre, science fiction. He’s taken his crusade one step further, though, and has launched a petition for one genre “to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.” Do you think SF (and its counterpart, F) are marginalized?
Graham Moore at The NYT has a review of Death Cloud, Andrew Lane’s attempt “to update and adapt Sherlock Holmes for a new generation, much the way Guy Ritchie has done with a swashbuckling Sherlock on screen.” The book follows 14 year old Sherlock, and sounds like a fun read. (I’ve read the entire Holmes series several times over, and will definitely be picking this up.)
And finally, at The WSJ, Helen Schulman writes about the process of constructing a novel: Write. Rewrite. Obsess. Repeat. Go read it now, especially if you’ve ever tottered at the edge of the Great and Terrible Abyss of Writerly Indecision.
And that’s all for now! I’ll be back later with the next installment of Cover Notes.Read More
Where are all the minority authors? I know they’re out there – I’ve seen Bronx Masquerade (Nikki Grimes), Monster (Walter Dean Myers), and Push (Sapphire) in the bookstore. Does My Head Look Big in This (Randa Abdel-Fattah) The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy), and The Kite Fighters (Linda Sue Park) reside on my bookshelf. In mid-January, Kate Harding wrote an article about Bloomsbury USA’s second white washing fiasco wherein the publisher decided, yet again, to put a white model on the cover of a young adult novel about a black character (Magic Under Glass, Jaclyn Dolamore).
But Bloomsbury may be just the top of the iceberg. “The Mysterious Benedict Society” series, a hit for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers has sported all-white covers since 2007, despite one character, Sticky Washington, being “described as having light brown skin”.
According to School Library Journal (click through for a copy the cover, and an enlargement of Sticky)
…the “Mysterious Benedict Society” controversy had been simmering for years. SLJ blogger Betsy Bird, a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library’s Children’s Center, was one of the first to spot the discrepancy in a December 11, 2007 review of the first book in the series.
“Sticky has dark skin in the book,” she writes. “Now look on the cover. It took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t seeing Sticky there. I was, but they’ve bleached him out. In short, they made Sticky white.”
At the time, says Bird, there was little response to her post and the illustrated covers on books two and three continued to show a white Sticky.??A few days ago, elementary school librarian Travis Jonker, who blogs at 100 Scope Notes, wrote: “No, it wasn’t enough to make him white, they made him albino with rosy cheeks. Seeing as how this has happened three times, I’m wondering why it has barely made a ripple.”
Growing up half-Indian in a predominantly white country (Australia), reading was usually about other people. US and UK books were filled with settings I couldn’t relate to (squirrels, snow, giant oak trees); characters I couldn’t relate to made reading even more difficult. Perhaps this makes me over sensitive. Maybe I’m reading too much–or too little–into the lack of black voices, diverse voices, in this conversation. Maybe all the minority authors out there are busy writing books (I hope so!). Yet it still seems odd that there are so few minority authors talking about whitewashing on the internet and in the press. It’s only a matter of time before some astute reader notices a whitewashed cover on a book featuring an Indian/Chinese/Afghani main character. So far, only YA book covers have made the discussion, though it seems likely adult lit covers will soon come under fire, too.
Last year, YA author Justine Larbalestier kicked up quite a fuss–and rightly so–when Bloomsbury published her YA novel, Liar, with a white model on the cover (Bloomsbury eventually capitulated). Ursula K. Le Guin has also “fought many cover departments on this issue, and mostly lost”. In an interview with Publishers’ Weekly, Larbalestier said, “Whitewashing of covers, ghettoizing of books by people of color, and low expectations (reflected in the lack of marketing push behind the majority of those books) are not new things.”
Larbalestier and others like her should be lauded for speaking out against white washing–it’s an abhorrent practice. But where are all the black authors? Liar’s cover has been discussed all over the web. Several high profile sites, including Salon, Jezebel, Publishers’ Weekly, and Boing Boing, ran the story. As far as I can tell (the Jezebel piece is unattributed), all the writers are white.
In April 2009, School Library Journal published an article about sterotypes in children’s literature (Is the Cover Art True to the Story, 2007). So far, this article written by South Asian author Mitali Perkins, this article is the only piece I can find with a non-white author addressing whitewashing and other cover issues (according to Perkins, some publishers also exoticize covers; for a thoughtful, in-depth look at whitewashing and why minority covers don’t sell check out Perkins’ thoughts at her blog).
Of course, it’s possible black authors haven’t responded to Bloomsbury’s actions because they are unaffected by the issue. After all, no publisher in their right mind would force a white cover model on a black author–it would be tantamount to saying “we like you, really we do, but our readers will only buy books by white people”. Though, according to Larbalestier, publishers do say this–all the time, in fact. She writes,
Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. Editors have told me that their sales departments say black covers don’t sell. Sales reps have told me that many of their accounts won’t take books with black covers. Booksellers have told me that they can’t give away YAs with black covers. Authors have told me that their books with black covers are frequently not shelved in the same part of the library as other YA-they’re exiled to the Urban Fiction section-and many bookshops simply don’t stock them at all.
When do black cover models make the cut? If the shelves of my local bookstore are any indication, when race–or rather racism–is an issue. Novels about slavery, the American Revolution, black history and the civil rights movement sport black cover models. Novels about contemporary teens–not so much.
Another reason black authors may be reluctant to speak out is alienation–alienation from not just publishers but readers. Jaclyn Dolamore, author of Bloomsbury’s latest victim, Magic Under Glass, is a newly-published author. From Dolamore’s blog,
I know some people are waiting for me to say something on the issue of my cover. I have thought long and hard about my thoughtful response, but the more I consider it, the more I think…
My writing is my voice. My stories are about accepting your fellow man or woman, about how love is the most powerful force in the universe. I do truly understand why some people are upset by my cover. However, Nimira is from a fictional land which is not meant to be a parallel to a specific country in our world…
I definitely don’t want to tell people how to feel. I have no problem with anyone getting impassioned about a cause. But a writer is the only thing I’ve wanted to be all my life, it’s an outlet for a girl who is often timid to express her soul. If you want to know how I feel about acceptance, love, and diversity, it is in my books. I’m glad the story has spoken to many readers. I believe that young readers crave books with ALL kinds of heroes, and the surest way we can satisfy that need is to support books that make heroes out of diverse characters. I do hope that you’ll give Nimira and her story a chance, and that you’ll love her as much as I do.
To me, Dolamore’s hedging reads as both acknowledgement and gentle plea–clearly, Bloomsbury screwed up, but it’s not my fault, so please buy my book. If the book’s author feels unable to make a definitive statement lest she lose her publisher/readers, other authors may think twice about voicing an opinion. Writers depend on publishers, agents, and readers. Push the envelope too much, and they may lose all three. (Read more about Dolamore & Magic Under Glass @ Jezebel.)
And then there’s the issue of, well, issues. Prominent minority figures have oft been accused of forwarding an agenda without considering the effect of their actions. If a black author stepped up and suggested boycotting Bloomsbury, as some outraged readers have done, it’s the Dolamores and the Larbalestiers that lose out, not the publisher. Although any author is likely to know better than to suggest a boycott–writers are a fairly supportive, close knit community–there are always naysayers, ready to pounce, accuse, and fight dirty.
While black authors may be the obvious absent voices, other non-white authors have also remained fairly silent on the issue. So-called “ethnic” (I hate that word) authors shouldn’t be lumped together, but whitewashing is an issue that affects everyone, not just white authors and black authors. Le Guin’s Powers is about a boy of Himalayan ancestry, though the ARC covers featured a white model.
Whitewashing publishers aren’t getting off too easy, though. Librarians, teachers, parents, and YA readers themselves are boycotting, writing letters, and, most importantly, talking about the issue. Little, Brown seems to have responded quickly, and will soon be re-releasing their series with updated, more appropriate covers. Bloomsbury has also caved to pressure from the blogosphere, though it took a little longer. Why should we care about whitewashing? Larbalestier says it best,
“Sticking a white girl on the cover of a book about a brown girl is not merely inaccurate, it is part of a long history of marginalisation and misrepresentation. Publishers don’t randomly pick white models. It happens within a context of racism…That is what this is about: pervasive racism in every aspect of our world so that young kids grow up thinking they are inferior because they see so few reflections of themselves.”
How do you feel about whitewashing? Would you knowingly buy a book with a whitewashed cover? Would you write a letter to a publisher? Do you know any minority authors speaking out about whitewashing?
Photo Credit: Adlie