Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. This got me thinking…
Civil rights. Equality. How far have we come, really? Most of us like to think we’ve come pretty far, but I still see a long and winding road ahead.
Recently, I was reading an article written by an African American novelist. She claims that her books are “labeled and marginalized by the market” even before hitting the shelves. Why? Because of the color of her skin. Regardless of the book’s content (one book in particular had an entirely white cast!), her novels tend to be marketed as “African American Lit”. Is this fair? I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t ordinarily browse the African American section at a book store, because I would assume that I’m not the target audience for these novels. But if the author’s skin color is the only reason for being lumped into that category… what the heck have I been missing out on?
The article to which I’m referring was written a few years ago, but I believe it is still very relevant. (I’ll provide a link at the end of this blog.) It goes on to say: “A few weeks ago Chicklit Club listed their Ultimate 100 reads. One novel out of one hundred was by a black writer—Terry McMillan‘s Waiting to Exhale—which was published back in 1992.”
So again, I ask: How far have we come, really? With social media running the world, with those handy-dandy back cover photos, with how telling a simple name can be, it’s hard not to know the race and gender of an author before ever deciding to crack open one of their books.
Can we ever truly close our eyes to an author’s exterior and let their words stand alone? I’d like to think so. My guest blogger, Julianne Snow, would like to think so, too. She’s written an article on what it means to her: a woman trying to gain recognition in the horror genre. And so, I throw the spotlight on Julianne.
I Also Have A Dream… Julianne Snow
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King stood on a steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in front of more than 250,000 civil rights protestors to deliver his now famous speech. It was a defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement and it resonates in many, even today. King spoke of equality and freedom, and while many may think it relates only to the plight of disenfranchised African Americans, it carries themes common to the struggles faced by all minorities.
I am a woman and I am an author. I write in one of the most unforgiving genres of literature: horror. What do I mean by unforgiving? It’s simple really – horror has to scare people or at the very least, evoke emotions of fright, unease, disgust, and a whole host of others. If it doesn’t, it’s simply not hitting the mark.
I’ve seen a number of ‘best of’ lists cross my path recently; lists of the top horror authors, lists of the top horror books in any given year. I look at those lists out of interest – not to see who I can emulate or anything like that. I have my style and others have their own; neither is right or wrong. It’s just how the words flow from our brains through our fingertips.
What I have been noticing is the lack of female representation among said lists. Before you crucify me for bringing it up, let me explain my point… How can the top ten horror writers not contain even one woman? As I sit here writing this editorial, I can call to mind many of the great horror writers I’ve read – and there are even some women in there! Is it the moniker of the top ten that leaves the women out in the cold? What are the criteria? Certainly it cannot be talent, because that’s exceedingly hard to judge. So it must be based on sales and even perhaps the breadth of an author’s work.
So that cleverly brings me into the sales aspect. Any author who sells their books has my utmost respect. It’s hard. I know it from personal experience. But here’s another question to mull over… Do readers care who writes their horror? Are they more apt to consume it if it’s written by a man?
I think the resounding answer in most cases is yes. While women have been writing horror for many years and will continue to do so for many more, it’s the men who appear to sell better to the general populace. I’m going to offer an opinion as to why, so again, try not to get too excited – the population will read horror written by a man before it will read it written by a woman because we’re still seen as the sweeter sex. (I would have said weaker, but I don’t believe that to be true of women in general.) I think it would cause a paradigm-shifting cataclysmic event if readers were to find out that sometimes women as a whole are more depraved than their male counterparts. What would it do to society if the ‘nurturing’ female was suddenly the perpetrator of nightmares?
When I tell people what I write, I get ‘the look’. Many of you know the one I’m talking about – the wide-eyed stare with the slight frown of disgust, all conveyed as the words “you write what?” are spoken. My reaction has always been to smile and respond with a “yes”, knowing full well that they are not likely to pick up my book or read anything I’ve written. The truth of the matter is I’m okay with that. Would I love to slap that look from their faces, though not literally of course? Absolutely. But I realize they are already lost, having made up their minds about the horror genre long before I entered the scene.
So if someone were to ask me if I had a dream, the answer would be yes. I dream of the day when women don’t get those looks for writing what they love. When women have the opportunity to sell just as many books as their male counterparts because society has finally changed its views. It’s a day I will welcome. Until then, I’ll be toiling away, writing about all of the things that scare me.
Julianne Snow’s Bio:
Julianne Snow is the author of the Days with the Undead series. She writes within the realms of speculative fiction and has roots that go deep into horror. Julianne has pieces of short fiction in publications from Sirens Call Publications, Open Casket Press, James Ward Kirk Publishing and Hazardous Press as well as the forthcoming shorts in anthologies from 7DS Books, Phrenic Press, and the Coffin Hop charity anthology Death by Drive-In. Look for parts in a number of collaborative projects to be announced shortly.
Here’s the link to the article I referenced, if anyone is interested: http://litchat.net/2010/02/15/the-legacy-of-african-american-writers