At #Bindercon, from left, Kavita Das, Raquel Cepeda, Ava Chin
Yesterday, I sat on a panel moderated by my new homie, writer Kavita Das, called The Double Whammy: Women Writers of Color Discuss Challenges and Strategies, as part of #Bindercon‘s two day symposium. The panel cleverly featured three writers including myself, memoirist Ava Chin (where have you been all my life?), and novelist Tayari Jones, literary agent Ayesha Pande (who happens to be my agent), and former Atria/Simon & Schuster editor Malaika Adero (who happens to be the editor of my book Bird of Paradise, and one of the .0001% of Black-American women in the publishing industry—until recently. I wonder what the numbers are now?). The panel went down at Tishman Auditorium at NYU’s Vanderbilt Hall: it was cold, damn cold in there!
I mostly dug the audience because, unlike most panels that are billed as focusing on the issues of women of color in publishing, there were women of all races and persuasions in the house. If only publishing were as diverse as the audience, I thought to myself, I wouldn’t have to try and convince so many editors that I exist, that my demo isn’t as niche (i.e. Latina-Americans, and more specifically, those that break away from the formulaic lost immigrant child+white savior English teacher + total assimilation = success and the realization of the American Dream) as they assume it is, and that my story and point of view is shared by many (you’d be surprised at how many white men get my work, ya’ll) Americans.
In other words: Latina-, Black-, Asian-, and Insert-your-fave-color-HERE- narratives are just as important to the social fabric of American Literature as those written by white women.
Ok, so as much as we tried, there was a lot we couldn’t cover in 45 minutes + 15 minutes for questions. I tried to run through my trajectory from disengaged parochial grammar school student, to disengaged high school student, to turned off college student (oh, the stories I could have shared about my university English professors), to circa early-mid ’90s poet, to journalist, editor, author, documentary filmmaker, blah, blah, blah, in a few minutes, but lots got lost in the sauce. I also have a hard time picking and choosing what to prioritize when asked to run through how I became a writer.
In a nutshell, I think I carried the gene, if you will, of a writer and storyteller, in my DNA. If you read my book, Bird…, you’ll understand what I mean (write me if you still don’t and we can discuss.) BUT I technically started writing by pretending I was a ghostwriter for my favorite mid-to-late ’80s emcees while my religion teacher was shoving all the tools for self-loathing down our throats. I was just not buying it.
Moving on, there were a few really poignant writing tips, jewels really, that everyone imparted that I think is important for sisterwriters of all ages and stages of their careers to keep in mind. I listed them in the following pages.
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