Aug 1, 2017 | #Blackspecfic

Addressing a problem

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When last year’s #BlackSpecFic report was released by Fireside, we were eager to dive into the qualitative and quantitative analysis of black writers and their representation in short fiction. Like much of the SFF community, we were incredibly dismayed with the report’s findings — for example this damning statistic (emphasis our own):

“Out of 2,039 original stories published in 63 magazines in 2015, only 38 stories could be found that were written by black authors.”

The biggest moment of realization for us came when we looked at the spreadsheet of source data and saw our own name among the results. Of the seven short stories we published in 2015, zero were from black authors.

This had to change.

As publishers and as book reviewers, we Book Smugglers have always tried to address the lack of diversity and visibility for authors of color. The Fireside results made it very clear that we had failed black writers, especially as publishers, up to that point. In order to live up to our own mission statement, we had to address the problem.

In August of 2016, we issued our annual open call for diverse short stories submissions to be published in 2017, and for the first time we included an optional self-identification field. In our submission guidelines and online form, we explicitly mentioned the Fireside report and that we were specifically keen to publish black voices. This year, of the six short stories we chose to publish, one is from a black author — an afrofuturism science fiction story by Tonya Liburd set in an alternate world evolved from Ancient Egypt. Also in this year, we’ve published a novella from another black author named Michele Tracy Berger, an apocalyptic horror story about a hair relaxer targeted at women of color.

While we are thrilled to be publishing these two stories this year, we know it’s not enough. We received approximately 1,000 short story submissions this year, but only about 200 of those entries included self-identification, and of those, just two dozen self-identified as black. Our fear is that systemic racism and historical context matters here — many authors seem to avoid self-identification whenever we survey our submissions pool. (On the other side of this effort, we did have quite a few white dudes losing their shit and calling us racists though for wanting diverse stories and oppressing them. So, you know, that happened.).

Although the report covers only short fiction, we are attempting to have greater representation from black authors across all of our publications and efforts: for example, we have a goal of increasing our coverage of black writer as reviewers by at least 20% this year. We’ve also commissioned two paid essays for our Quarterly Almanac, speaking about topics like minstrelsy in kid-lit.

Moving forward, we want — we need — to make sure we do more. We’ll be issuing another open call for submissions, and hope to publish more short stories and novellas by black writers in 2018.

We are only one small indie press, though, in an ocean of publishers and venues. As with everything, strength lies with numbers.

The more we all do, the better for our community.

About the author

Thea James is half of the maniacal book review duo behind The Book Smugglers. When she isn’t voraciously devouring the latest and greatest in speculative fiction, or swamped in papers and proposals, she can be found blogging, watching bad horror movies and concocting general plans toward world domination.

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