Reading While Black: The Kids Lit Edition

When I was a child of ten or so, I wanted to be a writer (and illustrator) like the authors idolized. I decided to read as many “classic” children’s books as possible, mostly using the Newbery Award Winners as a reading list. One of the books on that list was Doctor Doolittle, by Hugo Lofting. I had seen the (1960s) movie and assumed that the book would be similar, if not the same. Not only wasn’t it similar, it came with a heaping dose of open racism. In one scene, the good doctor bleaches a black man white so that he can marry a white woman. I was so disturbed by this scene that I did not finish the book. At ten, I wasn’t “woke,” so I just filed the racism away and lowered my expectations of becoming a Famous Author. I learned that Famous Authors were white people.  I also learned that Famous Authors could get away with blatant racism.

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Doctor Doolittle, of course, was not the only book that had blatantly racist messages. There was the Victorian fairy tale novel The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, which outright stated that black people were ugly and stupid. (I hunted down this book after reading Alistair Gray’s novel Lanark, which references Kingsley’s book). There was a passage in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel The Secret Garden where the spoiled brat heroine blithely claims that people of color aren’t even people. (I loved the Burnett book anyway). I had to stop reading A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden because one Asian character spoke in pidgin English. (By the time I encountered that book, I had read Laurence Yep and could spot harmful stereotypes).

The Association for Library Service to Children recently removed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from its award because of racism in the Little House books. I never read the Little House books; I did like the television show with its plucky tomboy protagonist and her nemesis, the campy villainess Nellie Olsen. Apparently, the books have some moments of severe values dissonance, with racist portrayals of Native Americans (who were displaced from their land by the Homesteading Act) and in one scene, Pa and a bunch of his friends put on a minstrel show, complete with blackface. Of course, naysayers are screaming about how such an action is on the slippery slope Book Banning and Burning, and how this is tantamount to censorship and another attack by the Tyrannical PC Snowflakes.

I think about all the Native and black children who come across these stereotypical portrayals, and the racist message they absorb.

 

Reading Log: Books by Jeanette Ng, Greg Keyes, T.E. Grau

Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng.

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In spite of being flawed in its pacing, this debut novel stuck with me. It is a gothic novel given a fantasy makeover. It deals with forbidden passion and is mostly set in a gothic castle in fairyland (here called Arcadia). Ng’s evocation of fairyland is sinister rather than whimsical, full of mists and confusion. The Fae are cruel, capracious creatures, given to mindfuck games and illusions. Their alien morality is tantalizingly disguised behind a thin veil of beauty.  One of the central themes of the novel is: do these creatures have souls?

The Waterborn by Greg Keyes

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A colorful play on sword and sorcery tropes. Very action-filled with a ‘sensawonda.’ The worldbuilding is non-western even if the tropes (the Chosen one, the princess in peril) are. Bits of Native American and South American (Aztec and Mayan) influence are filtered through this take on the Hero’s Journey. The rich imagery and characterizations (particularly the princess) make this a ‘page-turner.’

I Am the River by T.E. Grau

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I’m reading the ARC of this novel (soon to be out the publisher of my first collection Sea, Swallow Me & Other Stories). It’s a Vietnam War novel with supernatural elements, well researched and with a somewhat experimental style. The shifting timelines technique takes a bit to get used to, but it works well with the disorienting narrative. It’s a textual representation of PTSD, very effective, very uncomfortable.

What are you reading?

 

Octavia E. Butler’s 71st

The Google Doodle today features the late Octavia E. Butler. She is one of my muses. Her bleak, imaginative speculative fiction thematically explored the trauma of oppression. She’s known as a Science Fiction writer, but she also wrote horror (Fledgling, and Clay’s Ark qualify).

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I heard OEB speak twice. She didn’t read from her fiction. But her speech was as powerful as her fiction. You read my blog post about her speech here (The Parable of Octavia E. Butler).

She was taken from us too soon.

Upcoming Event: Reading at DC’s Outwrite Festival in August!

I’ll be reading with Melissa Scott (author of Shadow Man, the City of Astreiant Series); Brit Mandelo (author of We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling and numerous short stories); A.M. Dellamonica (author of The Hidden Sea and Indigo Springs series). It will be moderated by Lara Elena Donnelly, author of the deco punk novels Amberlough and Armistice. Hope to see you there!

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On Cons and Social Anxiety

I just came from Balticon, where I had a great time both as a panelist and an audience member. It was great to be among a group of people who were enthusiastic about the various genre fandoms. The con did a good job of making a welcome atmosphere for LGBTQ and POC folks, and had a robust harassment policy posted prominently. My panels were evenly spread and not back-to-back, and I had plenty of time to chill out. In fact, my Saturday schedule was basically empty! But I noticed something: I was exhausted by 10pm each day, even during the light schedule days. And by exhausted, I mean fatigued. Bone-deep tiredness, the type where your eyelids feel like they have weights on them. When I got in bed, I immediately fell asleep as if I had done strenuous exercise. It was beyond just the normal con fatigue.

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And that’s when it dawned on me—I was experiencing the physical toll of social anxiety. I have a mild form of anxiety, one that I am finally addressing in treatment. I never feel like I belong. I am awkward in crowded social situations (such as room parties!) and find that I need some time alone after being social. I will often go up to a con’s Green Room just to be alone.

I am writing this for a couple reasons. One, to apologize for any aloofness/unapproachability  vibe I radiated. Secondly, I want to kind of raise awareness about this issue. Much of the reason I go to cons is for networking. And networking is one of those things you must do as an author. Face-time with editors and authors are as important as submission in this business. And I know that I have missed connecting with other people because of this condition of mine. Finally, I think this is an important signal-boost the issue. I tweeted that “Networking for the Socially Anxious” should be a panel topic.

Outer Dark Symposium recording; Balticon

The recording of the Outer Dark Symposium panel I was on, The House on the Borderlands/La Frontera, is now available to listen to on the This Is Horror website.

A description of the panel:

In this podcast The Outer Dark presents the first installment of The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird 2018 including  The House on the Borderlands/La Frontera” Panel, moderated by David Bowles and featuring Rios de la LuzCraig Laurance Gidney, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Scott Nicolay, and Tiffany Scandal, plus Readings by David Bowles and John Claude Smith. These segments were recorded live on Saturday March 24 at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The podcast also includes all-new exclusive News from The Weird with Max Booth III and Lori Michelle from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.

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Also, I will be at Balticon this weekend. My schedule is posted below.

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