Agent Seeks Diversity…But Without Diversity

A couple of weeks ago a bunch  of agents turned to Twitter to share their manuscript wish lists using the hashtag #MSWL.  Writers were encouraged to narrow their searches to have an easier time finding agents interested in their genres (e.g., #MSWLwomen’s fiction” or “#MSWL diversity”).

When I searched “#MSWL diversity,” I found several tweets seeking something like “diversity where diversity is NOT an issue.”  And now I have some thoughts.

First of all, I get what they are saying.  They want a story with diverse characters that doesn’t focus on discrimination, identity crises, or the general struggle of being black/gay/disabled/[INSERT DIVERSENESS HERE].   I get that.  I myself wish there were more books, movies, shows that reflected black life, which involves more than a march to Selma.

The movie “The Kids Are Alright” is a great example of the type of thing I’m looking for when it comes to diversity (not sure about the agents).  Basically, it shows a family w/ lesbian parents dealing with talking back teenagers and marital issues- it’s a movie relatable to everyone.  HOWEVER, the plot of that story could not have been told but for the fact that they were lesbians.  Those things together are why I think it’s great.

So my first question is, are the agents who request “diversity where diversity is not an issue” asking for a story like “The Kids Are Alright”?

If yes, then they are probably not getting them because anyone who writes a story like that would not describe it as one where the “diversity is not an issue.”  It’s the diversity issues informing that writing.

If no, then my next question is what do they mean by “diversity where diversity is not an issue”?

If they mean a story with a minority protagonist whose minority status doesn’t play a role, my response is that’s impossible.  Minority-ness doesn’t have to be central, but it’s impossible for it not to play a role.  Remember- white/male/majority privilege is the privilege to not have to think about those things in your daily life.  If a story is written from a minority’s point of view then he or she doesn’t have that privilege and it’s just unrealistic that it won’t come up.  (Especially in fiction, which is so introspective.)

If they mean a story with a white/straight/abled protagonist who has diverse friends and co-workers, then my response is this:  That’s fine, but please don’t pat yourself on the back for bringing diversity to publishing.

There’s nothing wrong with those books, but ultimately, they still reflect a white person’s world.  It’s just a more accurate reflection because they acknowledge that non-white people are in it.  What these agents aren’t doing is publishing diverse voices or portraying the world diverse people live in.  And that’s the perspective that is underrepresented.



Nicholas Sparks Sued for Being an A-Hole

Don’t you love it when your instincts are right?

A year or so ago, something about Nicholas Sparks rubbed me the wrong way. Let me remind you that he actually believes that no woman has successfully managed to break into this category of “love tragedy”—which makes absolutely no logical sense.

But that’s old news.

Today we’re talking about Nicholas Sparks the accused racist, homophobe and anti-semite. I read through (most) of the complaint and, assuming the allegations are true, this what I concluded:

Sparks is an a-hole, which, combined with his position as a privileged white male, has given him an undertone of racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, sexism and anti-anythingnotlikeNicholasSparksism.

Let’s start with the Nature of the Claims:

Defendant Sparks, the world-famous romance novelist of such popular works as ‘The Notebook’ and ‘A Walk to Remember,’ describes himself as ‘one of the world’s most beloved storytellers.’ However, despite his commercial success as an author, the greatest fiction created by Defendant Sparks is the public image that he is somehow a proponent of progressive ideals such as diversity and inclusiveness. In reality, the non-fiction version of Defendant Sparks feels free, away from public view, to profess and endorse vulgar and discriminatory views about African-Americans…LGBT individuals, and individuals of non-Christian faiths.

In addition to a number of a-hole tendencies (yelling, berating, etc.), Sparks was accused of:

  • telling the Headmaster not to pose with people in the NAACP (after he was hired to help diversify the school) and other prominent black people
  • stating black students wouldn’t do well at the school because they are poor and can’t do academic work
  • discouraging teachers from assisting bullied gay students in part because the student who started a “homo-caust” was the child of a prominent donor
  • Locking the Headmaster in a room and threatening him until he signed a resignation letter (because he had a multi-year contract)

This is where I stand on this: Nicholas Sparks is the definition of white, male privilege. He views his success as purely individual, the result of his own personal hard work and talent and is unwilling to recognize the advantages that this background has given him, especially as a man writing about topics traditionally viewed as “female.”

It’s one thing if he is just walking around high on himself, making dumb comments at book signings. It’s quite another when he is put in a position of power. Sparks seems to just accept that he and people like him are superior.  He genuinely has no interest and sees no responsibility as an author or a school founder to understand the racial and socio-economic nuances that helped to enable his own success.

The result is that he actually believes he is simply being loyal to his network when he supports their kids who started a “homo-caust” or instructs teachers not to discuss non-Christian faiths in his non-sectarian, non-demoninational school. He genuinely believes that African-Americans are nearly absent from his school (despite it being located in an area that is 40% black) simply because they are less capable.

Does that make him a racist? Or simply a product of and facilitator in the larger structural problems embedded in this country?

Either way, I’m glad someone is filing suit because, ultimately, someone with that mentality should NOT be running a school. As I learn more about him, I also feel increasingly uneasy with his prominence in pop culture if these are the sort of xenophobic messages he’s trying to send.