Writing While Marginalized

N. K. Jemisin

Lesson time 17:28 min

Nora opens up about the difficulties she encounters—and overcomes—as a Black woman who writes science fiction and fantasy.

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Topics include: Push Back Against Bigotry • Choose Your Battles • Pay It Forward • Remind Yourself of What’s Important • Prepare to Deal With Some Bigotry • Take Self-Protective Measures • Resources to Protect Yourself From Harassment


[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: There are people out there who need your example. If your book is out there, your voice is out there, your face is out there, you're contributing literally just by existing. You are not just writing for yourself anymore. [MUSIC PLAYING] Let's be blunt here. The publishing industry is no different from any other major institution in American society, or English speaking language society, because it's very similar in other countries. It has a huge problem with systemic and endemic racism, sexism, a bunch of other isms, and the bulk of the power players are cishet white guys. The editors, for the most part, are cishet white women, but the people actually making decisions at the CEO level or the publisher and up level tend to be men. So depending on how far you choose to make your text veer from what their preferences are, because it has to be said that there are a lot of marginalized people throughout the history of literature in this country who've concealed their problematic identities and gone on to publish fiction where they just don't mention what people look like or they just don't mention those aspects of people's lives. And so it's certainly possible to publish books that are of meaning and value to the people who are decision makers, whether you yourself come from a marginalized background or not. People who come from marginalized backgrounds all know how to speak the language of the center. We all have read all of the books with the white guys in them. We know what kinds of stories are popular with that audience. Everybody knows that. That's what makes them the center. The thing that is relevant or the thing that you do have to kind of keep in mind as you're writing if you choose to conceal your identity and sort of just go in with-- go with the flow, basically, is that you're effectively participating in your own marginalization. You're participating in that bigotry. You're complicit with it. And that's not necessarily a state that everybody wants to be in. So let's say that you're a writer, though, who wants to fight the power. You want to push back against that bigotry. You want to find a way to break in when the primary decision makers who determine whether your career happens or not are people who not only don't understand your identity, but may not even really believe that an audience exists for your identity. [MUSIC PLAYING] One of the feedback pieces that I got when I first tried to publish my true first professional novel, "The Killing Moon," was, an editor wrote back and said, I love this, but I'm not sure I know how to market it. And that sentence has never left my head. It's verbatim in my head because it immediately told me that this editor did not believe that Black people read books, did not believe that white people would buy a book about Black people or that featured Black people. Because "The Killing Moon" isn't about being Black. It's about ...

About the Instructor

The winner of the Hugo Award for three consecutive years for her Broken Earth Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin has sold millions of books and created new cultures and histories. Now the acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer is teaching you how to create a world from scratch, develop compelling characters, and get published. Build your craft and share your voice with inclusive fiction that reflects your experience.

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N. K. Jemisin

Bestselling sci-fi and fantasy writer N. K. Jemisin teaches you how to create diverse characters, build a world from scratch, and get published.

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