“A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” —Toni Morrison
In the past year I rejected several manuscripts which initially excited me because they addressed, or seemed to be positioned to address, some significant layer of the deeply racist and racialized history of this country. I had extensive dialog with some of the authors, trying to elicit an interest in moving this conversation about race in America forward.
These were white authors, need I say, each engaged in bringing to light a particular legacy of white ancestors. One offered a manuscript set during the civil war. Another examined a particularly ferocious, genocidal chapter of reconstruction. The stories were compelling. The opportunity to bring more light to our history, palpable. The writing was good, in every case, and I wanted to want these books for the press. But the glaring omissions vexed me.
Let me be clear about this: Kattywompus will not be in the business of publishing stories which centrally and deeply involve African American individuals or histories, without significantly including the viewpoints of African Americans themselves. Please do not send us any more manuscripts about the history of white people during the era of slavery and its aftermath, unless your work expands not just on our knowledge and empathy for white suffering, but also for the African Americans arguably at the heart of these stories.
I’m honestly gobsmacked that this even needs explaining, yet, most of the time, I fail to explain well enough. The tragedies, rebellions, and survival of oppressed peoples, if not included in the stories of their time, become one more racist act against their legacy.
Context matters, and to a writer it should matter supremely. Don’t think that stories from our collective past can ever be told true, without invoking the deeper understandings we have since gleaned. We are all wading in the cultural toxins of white supremacy. The news, every day, should call us to raise up the real history of how we got into this sorry place. That lifting is the work we face, if we want to tell the story of America.
Send me those manuscripts.
image courtesy of Entheta, Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe – 50 Years Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart'”. The Town Hall, New York City, February 26th, 2008.