If they don’t speak for you, speak for yourself.

Keshawn Mashore

Communities in the world of literary publishing have been instrumental in the founding of some of the nation’s most famous publications. Journals and magazines like the New England Review, Glimmer Train, and the Harvard Review stand atop the mountain of literary publishing. The literary communities in which these publications prosper tell great stories as well. However, as has happened in many other fields of creativity, marginalization has established itself in the world of publishing, keeping the voices of many great writers silent in the world.

Jose Older sates in his essay, “Diversity is Not Enough” that, “ – the agent first places the onus of change on the folks with the least institutional power to effect it, then suggest we probably won’t be able to find the time (i.e., lazy) to master the craft.”(Race, Power, Publishing) The people with the least institutional power are minorities, and we are the ones most feeling the cold shoulder of marginalization. Many people might say otherwise but institutionally; minorities suffer from a disregard specially reserved for them. We have limited access into the communities that dominate the field of literature.  Our stories are first ignored on a large scale, before being told that they are both inaccurate, and not relatable. What to say to that? I say that although a white, teenage boy attending a school for magic and I have little in common, I still find interest in his story. I still respect that story, regardless of the lack of similarities. If people can relate to the stories of completely fictional people, why can’t they relate to the stories of their fellow human beings? Could it be because they don’t want to admit that there are truths to be found in these stories? That the world they live in is not the same world everyone else lives in?

People have sometimes stepped up to remedy this, in part at least. The need for communities of marginalized writers has always been an important need. At times where sufficiently capable, minority writers have found themselves without a forum to speak, motivated individuals have done great work. Charles Henry Rowell started the Callaloo literary journal in 1967, with its original intention being to give Black Southern writers a place to showcase their talents, and tell their stories. Eventually, it grew into an international journal for the African Diaspora. He saw the need for a literary community, and seeing this need, created a, “journal of necessity” (Rowell 51)

My story, and the stories of people like myself, minorities, are just as interesting as the stories of the writers who profit greatly in the current literary landscape. I don’t just mean profiting financially, but in terms of privilege and sustainability. The dominant literary community is structured in a way in which those who benefit from their privileges, continue to benefit from their privileges. To benefit from their privilege however, they must continue to marginalize the minority, and so it is for this reason that in the year 2017 it is still difficult to have your voice heard, your story told, your skill respected. We have options though, albeit limited ones. As a nation, we can continue to look forward to the small communities that sprang up in response to the disregard for its minorities, or we can take an intelligent step into the future by respecting the work of our constituent peoples. You would think the choice simple, right?

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2 thoughts on “If they don’t speak for you, speak for yourself.

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  1. I think that you brought up a lot of good points in your essay. If I had to pick out one line specifically that stood out to me, it would be the question you posed, “If people can relate to the stories of completely fictional people, why can’t they relate to the stories of their fellow human beings?” This thought resonates in Older’s piece and while seemingly obvious, is often overlooked for the pursuit of being “relateable”. I think you do a good job of conveying this idea in your post.

    There are some things that can be corrected in terms of grammar and it would be good to see the inclusion of more outside sources in your writing.

    Like

  2. Imani identified the same part of this post that really struck me, though it was a sentence slightly before the one she quotes that both packed a punch and made me smile: “I say that although a white, teenage boy attending a school for magic and I have little in common, I still find interest in his story.” Well put!

    Good job making connections between the essays by Older and Rowell. The image you include is also intriguing. It looks as though these are stamps issued by Ghana? If so, this resonates with the diasporic focus of Rowell (with Ghana recognizing and bringing attention to great American writers).

    Your next to last sentence tripped me up a little… I think it’s the “look forward” part of it. You might say something like “continue to be relegated to the small communities…” to show that this is the less favorable option, compared to real equity.

    Like

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