The onus to be seen and heard, then, lies with writers of color, despite big publishers touting that they are eager for diverse voices. This is something Michael J. DeLuca, writer, editor and founder of the environmental justice journal Reckoning, admits is a serious matter. When asked whether people of color are better off staying away from traditional publishing, DeLuca, who is white, admits that he wishes we wouldn’t, but that he also recognizes how the industry adheres to a pattern of white supremacy, ableism, patriarchy, etc. “The burden should lie with the people in power, with privilege, to recognize what is a painfully glaring, pervasive, deep-rooted problem and use that privilege to work to dismantle it," he says.
This is a sentiment David Bowles echoes: "It is absolutely the responsibility of Big Publishing to effect the deep, broad, painful change required to ensure literary dignity for all communities of color in the US. And if they don't, we need to be on their case 24/7, pushing as hard as possible."
Disassembling antiquated structures
The demand for accountability has been amplifying over the decades. Writes Wendy C. Ortiz, author of Excavation, for Gay Mag: "Now is the time to call out the publishing industry […] for its racism and small-mindedness about who gets published and who does not; who gets massive advances and who does not." This is something Bowles feels strongly about as well. "Taking some metaphorical high road off the beaten path means abdicating our rightful place at the table of US letters,” he says, despite agreeing that most of the long-standing literary institutions were not built to make space for marginalized voices. “Literary dignity and equity can only be achieved by pushing past the gatekeepers, battering the gates."
For DeLuca "calling out" the industry starts with introspection: "my perspective is that of a straight, white man, and there's only a certain extent to which I can change that. So I've found it's been easier for me to feel like I'm making a dent in the problem of representation as an editor than as a writer, because […] it is part of the job to step aside and make room for another person's voice."