Where are the writers of colour?

media clip

First aired on Q (17/3/14)

Between 2011 and 2012, just over 10 per cent of books reviewed by the New York Times were written by people of colour. Author and teacher Aimee Phan believes this needs to change and that mainstream media, publishers and reviewers are failing writers of colour.

She wrote an essay about it for the website Talking Writing and it's caused quite the stir online. She sees this essay as the beginning of a broader conversation. She cites VIDA's efforts to point out gender disparity in literary coverage as a great success, but says we need to take this conversation one step further. "More work needs to be paid and brought attention to the fact that writers of colour suffer even more marginalization."

Phan says the work is out there, literary establishments need to pay attention. "There are a lot of writers of colour who are publishing today and it's very difficult for them to actually get any mainstream book reviews," Phan said to Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. "The mainstream media has a responsibility to reflect these diverse perspectives."

"The editors are the curators, they're the ones telling the readers what to read and right now writers of colour aren't making that list," she said. "These books will actually do wonders if you read them to clear up the misconceptions and give you a fuller, more vibrant picture of a community you may have dismissed before."

Phan sees similar resistance in her students. "I will have white students who look at the books and wonder and resist -- and they don't just do it to Asian American books, they do it to lesbian books, gay books, anything that is not their experience -- and they say 'well, I can't relate to it'," she said. Phan tries to get her students to see that, in fact, the opposite is true. "Books bring us people who we initially believe are different and then we come to understand that we share a lot of the same qualities. That's why we read."

"Books will do wonders to clear up these misconceptions and to give you a fuller, more vibrant picture of a community you have have dismissed before, or you may not known much about before," Phan said.

Listen to the complete interview in the audio player above.