The Start of Pages of Colors
In the fall of 2017, I enrolled in two courses at a local community college in preparation for my MFA applications. One class was a creative writing workshop, the other, an English Literature survey course. The same instructor taught both courses: a very well educated Caucasian woman who was also a published author and popular instructor.
A few weeks into the semester, our class was assigned reading during our non-fiction/personal essay segment. Some of those readings included essays by David Sedaris and Joan Didion. One was written by Edwidge Danticat.
During class, the Professor has so much to say about Joan Didion and David Sedaris. She knew them both so well and read all their books. But when it came to Edwidge Danticat, a student asked, “Is the author male or female?” The Professor had no answer. Another asked, “How do you pronounce the name?” The Professor shrugged. One student, an older woman who worked as a journalist finally answered, “I think she’s Haitian.”
(PS: Danticat’s essay was titled Westbury Court and it was one of the most resonant pieces I’ve ever read. To access a PDF version of the essay, click here. Do yourself some good and read it now!)
It stunned me that the Professor had no information on this writer of color. It didn’t occur to her to research her upbringing or culture. It’s one matter to be negligent, but the she had shown no interest for this writer of color, gave the author no space during our class time to discuss her work at all even though Danticat’s essay was part of the curriculum. At the time I couldn’t pinpoint why, but I grew very upset. I wondered, did I have a right to be angry? Why was I angry at all?
The more I thought about it, I realized what I never had before: the teachers who teach us how to read and write teach us through their personal lens. This Professor was an educated woman who read about her people and history. So that’s what she could teach—English Literature like Bronte, Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Orwell, Chaucer, Wilde, Woolf and Joyce. That was her history, her people, her culture. And let’s be honest: most creative writing teachers are white men and women.
What’s more? In classrooms, young writers are taught to lionize these authors and champion them as heroes and classics. What happens next? The same thing that happened to me: young writers of color are taught to write white, and rinse their stories of what makes them special and different in the first place.
I’m not trying to hate on this teacher. She’s far more accomplished and educated than I’ll ever be. And I don’t think she meant to be hurtful in any sense. But I did drop both classes, because it occurred to me I couldn’t learn what I wanted from her.
Through that experience, I learned an exceptionally important lesson: I needed writers of color to teach me how to write about diversity issues. And I had so many questions! How is fiction by POC different? Who is out there? How did they do it? Where are we in terms of POC progress in the lit community?
I wanted answers. So I sought MFA programs that included authors of color in their teaching staffs. But there weren’t many. In fact, many programs did not even have diversity statements. With such slim acceptance rates, I had to recognize the very real—and likely— possibility of rejection. And, with resources for writers of color so limited and scattered, I had to find a way to discover, collect and organize this information in a way that made sense.
I had to research and find writers of color myself, read their works and figure this shit out.
In a sense, I came out of the matrix. And then, I started this blog.
What You’ll Find on Pages of Colors
Writers of Color, New and Old
These writers may be old, dead, faraway, never-heard-of or very popular. I have no idea either because this is all new to me too.
With each Author Profile, you’ll find:
- Quick Facts
- Before You Read Tips
- Quotes from the author
- Links to author’s works
Blog Posts on Figuring Out How to Write POC
Every once in a while there will be a blog post exploring how to write about diversity issues.
This can include topics like:
- Why it’s difficult to write about culture and race issues
- How to incorporate a second language into an English-dominant work
- Why and how history is so important to diverse work
- And other topics as I figure this out
Preview/Review on Books by POC writers and How to Read Them
Just as once in a while, there will be a “preview/review” on a book written by a person of color. Preview/reviews are not actual pre views before the book comes out. Think of it as a info guide before you read the book.
With each Book Preview, you’ll find:
- Quick Summary of the novel
- Before You Read Tips – This includes information that may be helpful for the reading process, like cultural history, understanding certain languages, or preparing for unique story structures.
- About the Author’s Process
- Final Thoughts on the reading experience
I want Pages of Colors to be an information bank on POC fiction and a resource for other writers of color. Never ever is this space meant to demean or patronize another group of people, white or otherwise. But please understand that this is a new endeavor for me and I’m learning all this for the first time. I’ll make mistakes–with my grammar, my writing, my posts and in addressing POC/diversity issues. I’ll work to include as many different POC writers as possible, but it’ll take time.
All that aside, this should be a pretty good thing.
Peace out, Internet.