About a week ago there was a massive blowup on Facebook regarding diversity within a anthology Table of Contents (ToC). Someone posted the signing sheet for the Borderlands 6 anthology and a lady asked Thomas F. Monteleone, the anthology editor, why there was so few women in the ToC. Tom responded in a very defensive and extremely rude way, which lead to calls from some for readers to boycott the anthology, and multiple discussions on various peoples’ walls about inclusion and diversity within genre fiction, with a special focus on how editors decide on the Table of Contents for their anthology.
Catherine M. Grant wrote a great piece on the incident on her Tumblr here:
Personally, I’m not sure I agree with any call to boycott the anthology… There are a lot of lovely and talented writers who would be affected, including women, and including several who are not established writers and are trying to get their fiction out there to readers. That being said, I’m sure an argument would, or could, be made that a few privileged people taking a hit for the point of bringing down elitist/racist/sexist editors and making a stand for diversity and inclusion is a small price to pay. Maybe that’s a good argument, I don’t know. I can certainly understand someone feeling that way; I can emapthise.
Interestingly enough another anthology ToC released recently, Nightscript Vol. 2, escaped comment regarding inclusion and diversity. By my reckoning of the Nightscript ToC, there are 21 stories 2 of which are by People of Colour and 4 of which are by women (only one more lady than Borderlands 6). I suspect the reason this has escaped comment is two-fold, 1. no one has actually raised issue with it (is it a problematic TOC, particularly in light of BL6? Genuine question.) and 2. CM Muller hasn’t come out and made a number of crass and rude comments and been quite offensive in the process. Now, for CM Muller’s sake, please don’t start a giant internet pile-on. I don’t know the details behind nightscript… maybe it was blind read and open submission only. Maybe only 20% of the submissions were women and 10% by people of colour. Maybe it was advertised in 50 different places online and the call went loud and wide. Don’t know, and ultimately that’s not really the point or my intention here at all. I’m merely pointing out that, in the grand scheme of things, Borderlands 6 isn’t necessarily uniquely homogeneous.. for whatever reason, it’s in line with a lot of other TOCs out there.
Regardless of all this, this made me think about my own current anthology project and what I’ve done, or haven’t done as far as diversity and inclusion goes. Have I done enough? Could I do more? Does it even matter?
I’ll start with that last question. I’m somewhat mixed ancestory (a few non-Anglo/Celtic ancestors in the family tree above) although the vast lion’s share of my genetic make up is Anglo-Saxon/Celtic stock, including parents and grandparents on both sides. My surname is Scottish, placing me as a member of Clan Dewar. If I look in the mirror, my skin is white. English was my first language and I was raised with all the privileges a white person enjoys in Australia. My wife, ethnically Lebanese Arab, is a Muslim; our children, three beautiful girls, are People of Colour. I am also Muslim. I speak Lebanese Arabic [understand a lot more than I can speak] and can read fusha Arabic. I’ve had people tell me to “go back to where I came from” and call me a terrorist for no reason. We’ve had pigs heads thrown in our local mosque and had our place of worship trashed… so if I’m not a Person of Colour (I don’t consider myself to be one, although I don’t really identify as being ‘white’ either) , I’m probably a little more tuned in to their struggles (I hope). So, you can see why—for me at least—diversity and inclusion are important. My entire existence revolves around diversity and inclusion. I’m not just making lip service when I say that a writer’s race, colour, creed or orientation is not a determining factor in whether or not I dislike or reject their work.
Does race, colour, creed, orientation etc. play a part in me liking or accepting an authors work? In my opinion (and I think in the opinion of some fantastic editors, such as Ellen Datlow, Jeff Vandermeer and Silvia Moreno-Garcia), the onus is on me as an editor to cast a wide net and draw in different people when I put forward invitations for a project. As Silvia Moreno-Garcia recently said (paraphrased, because I’m too lazy to look up her actual Facebook comment) “If it’s not the job of an Editor to choose the authors, what the fuck is their job??”. And she’s right. Sitting back and claiming “Oh but these are just the people that submitted to me” when you haven’t widely publicised the call, you haven’t given any indication or impression that you want to read anything but white male authors, and most of your anthology has been collected via invitation anyway…. that’s lazy and pathetic. And it’s not gonna get you the mystical ‘best story’ because the best fiction isn’t just, per defaltam, by white males. I’m still learning but, moving forward, I’m determined not to be that editor.
With the original Suspended in Dusk anthology, 43% of the authors were women. I had authors from 4 different continents. I had authors who were married or single. I had authors who were mums or dads, and authors who were not. I had multiple language speakers, English as a Second Language speakers. I had people who were primary carers for aged or infirm loved ones. I was pretty happy with that book. Upon reflection though, everyone in that book was white. Even the writers from Africa were white, for God’s sake.
With Suspended in Dusk 2, I decided that I could once again make an anthology which had a very strong showing of fantastic fiction from women. I was confident I could do it—Women are among the best, if not the best, dark fiction and horror writers. Truth be told, I didn’t actually consider much beyond that, including race, ability, religion, sexual orientation, when seeking out authors to contribute to the anthology. Slowly however, I found some diversity creeping in spite of my laxity. One of my favourite authors who I invited, has Native American heritage. The artist who came on board to do the internal illustrations is gay, a second African author that was not in the previous anthology (although she too is white! But it’s not up to me to judge someone’s African-ness) threw in her story. This combined with the strong inclusion of women authors, I felt, was at least step in the right direction. I’m learning and I feel I’m asking the right questions at least, and so I hope that I can get an even better mix happening in future projects.
One thing I’ve done with Suspended in Dusk 2 is invite a few of the authors (both men and women) who had stories in book one to submit a story to the second anthology. My reasoning here was because I like their voice, they were good to work with and they’re not established authors. I felt (feel? I still feel that way, but the die is cast now, rightly or wrongly) that I would be able to help them develop their skills through my editing process. I sought to balance this out, particularly because I’m also cognisant that I don’t know all the writers out there, by having a couple of open submission spots that would allow me to be exposed to authors I didn’t know or hadn’t thought of, and to provide members of wider community with an opportunity to be a part of the anthology.
In hindsight, I’d probably do a number of things differently:
- Read more widely to get a handle on who is who and who is writing what, and thus expose myself to work by authors of different backgrounds.
- Explicitly state in the submission guidelines that I’m open to stories from people of diverse backgrounds. (Anecdotally this gives some people courage to submit their story.)
- With Suspended in Dusk 2, I advertised on twitter, Facebook, The (Submission) Grinder, Absolute Write Forums and Litreactor.com forums. Next time around I will consider what other methods of advertising my submission call might reach more diverse groups.
- To capitalise on points 1 and 2, include more open submission spots.
- Think more open mindedly about authors from different backgrounds who could write the kind of fiction that I think would address my anthology theme and aesthetic, when deciding who I send my invites out to.
I don’t know who is the gold standard in this regard, although some of the editors I mentioned earlier do a very admirable job. They’re certainly amongst those who I look up to and hope to imitate. I don’t know when an editor is doing “enough”. I do see encouraging signs though.
One of the projects that sprung up recently is Richard Thomas‘ Gamut Magazine. The Gamut Magazine kickstarter raked in over $55000USD and is a fully funded project launching soon. One of the best things about Gamut (aside from the fact that they’ll be paying their staff and paying contributing authors 10c a word!) is that they look like they’re going to be a really inclusive market. They’ve got a great mix of men and women on the staff, 60% of the contributors they have lined up to launch the magazine are women. They’re open to fiction of most genres and they’re specifically open to fiction from people of all backgrounds. One might argue, they’re after fiction from the whole gamut of folks out there (badoomtish!). I put some of my own dollars down on this project and gave up 5 copies of Suspended in Dusk for Richard to use as incentives for backers and I can’t wait for this project to take flight.
Oh, also check out the POC Destroy Horror anthology. Silvia Moreno-Garcia will be editing it and it’s opening up for submissions soon. I think the book will be fantastic and I’ll be making sure I grab a copy.