The Need for Diverse Voices
About two years ago, when I was halfway through my novel, I attended a fiction writing masterclass hosted by the Geneva Writers Group. I’d been part of the group for a few years, but had never actually attended a master class before. But when I saw such a well-known writer coming in – he’d written books and wrote for a newspaper I love reading – I figured this would be my chance. I could learn something that would help my career, and make me a better writer. Sadly, that was not at all what I had learned in that masterclass. What I did learn was that my story, or the stories of so many other people in that room, didn’t matter.
- A woman of Indo-Pakistani origins was working on a story about a woman of the same origins, and the racism she faced in the work place. She was told her story was not relatable. Racism in the workplace not relatable? In what universe?
- A man had written a love story about an older woman who’d just retired from working for an international organisation, and while on vacation had begun an affair with a much younger man. He was told his story was not believable, because women don’t behave that way. Who would even want to read that? He asked.
- A friend of mine was writing young adult science fiction-fantasy. She was told her story was not realistic.
In each of these cases, I actually put my hand up and countered the author. For the first woman’s story, I told him that while I didn’t know what his home was like, but in an international city like Geneva, that woman’s story was very relatable. Regarding the man’s story, I told him I could list him at least a dozen women that I knew that had lived through that exact circumstance, as international work can be lonely. Regarding fantasy writing not being realistic … wait, dragons aren’t real? WHY HASN’T ANYONE TOLD ME THIS?
So this writer, this entitled white man in a really tacky blue suit, was basically telling a room filled with people that unless they were white and their protagonists male, that their stories didn’t matter. And again, why is it that I wasn’t told that fantasy fiction had to be real? Does that mean everything I have ever read until now was a lie?
So when I came upon the various articles about how many are coming out against diversity in publishing over the last week, I honestly wasn’t surprised. In my small corner of the world, a still unpublished author trying to make her way in a difficult professions, saw the fight against diverse stories in this master class. And if this guy, who was quite successful, was telling me that my stories didn’t matter, why should I even bother?
I ignored him, of course. I have my dream, and I’m fighting to make it happen. It doesn’t mean I don’t get discouraged, or worried. Of course I do. But I still believe that there is a publisher out there who will want my story, and the story of the older lady and her love affair, and the story of racism in international organizations. All of these, and so many more, are amazing stories waiting to be told. I’m hoping that my faith is not misplaced.