Science Fiction & Fantasy
examining sexuality, race, and other real-world issues.
That boundary-pushing tradition continues today, but the
world of speculative fiction faces the same challenge as the rest
of publishing: overcoming a long history of books being primarily created by, for, and about straight white men.
Hiring diverse staff at publishing houses, many agree, is a
crucial factor in the move toward diversifying characters in
books across genres. According to the PW Publishing Industry
Salary Survey 2014, just 11.3% of publishing employees self-identify as Hispanic (any race), black or African-American,
Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, mixed race, or other
nonwhite race. It’s easy to see how that homogeneity might
make for a sameness in the books published—and how the opposite might hold true, too.
“I think the fact that I am Asian-American has made me more
open to reading a range of diversity in books and characters,” says
Alvina Ling, executive editorial director of Little, Brown Books
for Young Readers, which counts among the titles on its list
plenty of SF/F books. “Maybe I think about it more because I
really did notice a lack of diverse characters in the books I read
growing up, and I really hungered for that. I wanted to see Asian
characters in the books I was reading.”
The We Need Diverse Books campaign, which seeks to ad-
dress the lack of diverse narratives in children’s literature, has
its roots in speculative fiction: it began in April 2014 as a Twit-
ter exchange between YA fantasy authors Ellen Oh and Malinda
Lo. The hashtag “#weneeddiversebooks” went viral, spawning
a nonprofit organization whose message is being heard across
age categories and genres.“The #weneeddiversebooks move-
ment is a testament to the vast chasm in the market where di-
versity should be living,” says Andrea LeClair, marketing coor-
dinator at Riptide, which publishes LGBTQ fiction, romance,
and erotica, often with fantasy or SF elements.
Where better to break ground than in genres that play with
possibility, projection, and the worlds of tomorrow? As Jordan
Brown, senior editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books’ Walden
Pond Press and Balzer + Bray imprints, says, “SF/F has long
been the province of marginalized voices telling stories that
break—aggressively, at times—from mainstream media and
values.” He reiterates the importance of children and young
adults seeing a wide range of heroic narratives in their fiction.
“This is the age at which they learn whose stories ‘matter,’ and,
thereby, what each of us is allowed to contribute to society.”
Adult readers, too, benefit from literature written with a
variety of perspectives. Tricia Narwani, editorial director at Del
Rey, cites Karen Lord’s forthcoming SF novel. “Although The
Galaxy Game [Jan. 2015] is set on distant worlds in the far fu-
ture,” Narwani says, “her Barbadian heritage informs her view
of the world—multivocal, multiracial, multidimensional, that
isn’t limited to a single privileged narrative or culture.”
PW looks at how well science fiction and fantasy publishing
reflects the diversity of the real world—and where there’s room
continued on p. 30
MIRRORS AND WINDOWS
“In the past few years we’ve seen a real rise in awareness of issues
of diversity in the SF/F community,” says Gillian Redfearn,
publishing director of Orbit’s imprint Gollancz. “There is al-
ways more to do to promote diversity in literature—and in
life—but the recent emphasis from established and debut au-
thors alike has been a positive sign.”
Some quarters of SF/F publishing are actively seeking new
voices and representations outside of the so-called mainstream.
This year, the Speculative Literature Foundation launched two
diversity-centered grants: Diverse Writers, intended to support
new and emerging authors from marginalized groups; and Di-
verse Worlds, for work that presents a diverse world, regardless
of the writer’s background. More than 150 aspiring authors
applied; the 2014 winners will be announced in mid-October.
Tu, a Lee & Low imprint, is hosting its second annual New Vi-
sions Award, which solicits science fiction, fantasy, and mystery
manuscripts from first-time middle-grade and YA writers of
color; the winner will receive a contract for publication.
Stacy Whitman founded Tu Publishing in 2009 with the mission of promoting multicultural children’s fantasy and science
fiction; all of the books star people of color. (Lee & Low acquired
the company, now Tu Books, in 2010.) Whitman and her staff,
she says, are mindful of the concept of windows and mirrors in
their work. “There are a lot of mirrors for white readers, who can
see themselves represented in fiction, but not quite as many for
people of color,” she says. “But even so, fantasy is all about those
windows into other worlds and seeing those people and other
beings, who are not human, from their own eyes. White readers
need that for people of color just as much as people of color need
[to see themselves reflected].” The imprint’s forthcoming titles
include a work of science fiction starring a Lakota main character:
Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac (Oct.), an e-novella prequel to last
year’s Killer of Enemies.
“SF/F has definitely changed from the golden age of science fiction in the ’50s,” says Zachary Leibman, assistant editor at Running Press.
“It has made huge leaps in terms of fiction
featuring women as well as characters of different races and religious outlooks.” The Mammoth
Book of SF Stories by Women (Dec.), edited by
Alex Dally MacFarlane, at more than 500
pages, showcases work written exclusively by
female authors, including James Tiptree Jr.,
the pseudonym the late Alice B. Sheldon began using in 1967.
David Pomerico, Harper Voyager’s executive editor, also acknowledges the “whitewashed” history of SF/F. “But this is
changing,” he says. “[Author Beth] Cato puts it this way: ‘We
live in a colorful world. It’s only right that secondary fantasy
worlds are just as colorful.’” In Cato’s steampunk novels, for
example—the newly published Clockwork Dagger and its sequel,
Clockwork Crown (June 2015)—the male lead is a person of
color in a largely white Victorianesque society.