Last year when the first #BlackSpecFic report went live, I don’t think anyone was surprised by the confirmation that there is a distinct lack of black representation in speculative fiction. If you’ve been paying any attention, you know that the genre is still largely white and male. While we know the #BlackSpecFic report isn’t 100% accurate, I believe that the greatest benefit gained from having the report has been the clear and irrefutable proof that we have a diversity problem.
The #BlackSpecFic report generated a great deal of valuable discussion in the genre fiction community. Over at Escape Artists podcasts (PodCastle, Escape Pod, Pseudopod and Cast of Wonders) we were disappointed to see the abysmal numbers across the board, but were otherwise quite energized by the information. It always helps to have issues clearly laid before us so we know exactly the work that needs to be done. At Escape Artists, we renewed a sincere commitment to publish more black authors in speculative fiction.The editors and owners of Escape Artists met shortly after the report was released to discuss the findings and what we could do as an organization to improve our numbers. But, the number of black authors we published weren’t our only concern. We wanted to know why our submission numbers were so low.
We discussed several strategies for improvement that included making clear and transparent calls for submissions from authors of color using social media, encouraging more black people to come on board with the organization as associate editors, and using personal rejections so that authors know that a real person read their story and that we do want to see more from them.
Our immediate goal is to encourage more black people to submit, to make PodCastle and the Escape Artists organization as a whole feel like a safe and welcoming space for writers of color to submit their stories to. We want POC to know that their unique tellings are not only welcome but desired. More submissions means more opportunities for publication.
As for results, these are difficult to quantify. We’ve received positive responses to the feedback we send authors and this lets us know that we are making an impression on that front. Otherwise, it’s still too soon for us to make any sort or reasonable assessment. That said, we’re not seeing a huge uptick in the number of black people submitting stories. This concerns us, and we’ve met again recently to discuss our progress thus far.
We plan to ramp up our calls for submissions via social media, and sustain them. I think this is key. We can’t simply tweet once or twice that we want to see more black folks submit and think we’ve done the job. We realize that it is imperative that we use all modes of social media possible and that we hammer the message home, clearly and frequently. We have discussed other strategies as well for shining the light on our open door.
I’ve been with PodCastle for a couple of years and Escape Artists for about three and I didn’t need to see the #BlackSpecFic report to know that I haven’t seen nearly enough black people submit writing to us for consideration. I think it would be accurate to say that we’re not the only venue that doesn’t see enough black folks submitting. There are a handful of black authors that we know well, and who have managed to create a presence in the field. These authors are trailblazers for the rest of us. I also have a particular passion for encouraging and publishing new names. I figured, why not combine these goals?
We recently created a list of black authors, new and established, that we would love to see more work from. We’re still brainstorming ways to attract those submissions, but this is part of an ongoing project that we realize may take considerable time. Nevertheless, we’re dedicated to continuing these efforts for the long term. We hope to see more comfortability among black writers and increased faith in our sincerity and dedication to publishing a diverse range of stories from equally diverse authors. In the end, it only makes sense that we do this. Diversity will only serve to improve the calibre of the stories we publish, and the organization as a whole, and this is what we want above all else.
I can’t say that there have been any particular obstacles, however we are aware that there is a degree of pushback from some segments of the community. We’re talking about folks who believe that a push for diversity is equivalent to discrimination against what has been and continues to be, the majority of authors published in genre fiction. Straight white men. These are people who somehow believe that diversity is equal to mediocrity, when in fact, we know it to be the exact opposite. The naysayers aren’t so much an obstacle as they are motivators, as they encourage us to keep pushing against the status quo in favor of richer imaginings.
We’re still early in the game and we haven’t yet exhausted all of our ideas for how to make things better. This is going to require a joint concerted effort from different angles for as long as we exist. What will be required from us is perseverance and sincerity, and I think we have that going for us.
I am determined to see PodCastle (and all of the Escape Artists family) not only publish more black authors, but to also be a venue where black authors believe that their submissions will get a fair and welcome hearing.
About the Author
Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali lives in Houston, Texas, with her family. By day she works as a breast oncology nurse. At all other times, she juggles, none too successfully, the multiple other facets of her very busy life.
Khaalidah has been published at or has publications upcoming in Strange Horizons, Fiyah Magazine, Diabolical Plots and others. You can also hear her narrations at any of the four Escape Artists podcasts, Far Fetched Fables, and Strange Horizons. Khaalidah is co-editor at PodCastle audio magazine, where she is on a mission to encourage more women and POC to submit fantasy stories.
Of her alter ego, K from the planet Vega, it is rumored that she owns a time machine and knows the secret to immortality.
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