Friday, August 17, 2007

An Invite to the Folks at the Martin Forum

So there have been many different sites out there talking about issues sparked by my post on being "color blind". One of the more lively ones was at the GRR Martin's Westeros Forum. I was chuffed (British word, means happy, thrilled, bucked up) they were talking there. Thing is, I found the tone of the conversation a bit different than at my own site. People were saying lots of things. There was a significant balance in it - and I'd been summoned - but still I thought the further it went along the less it had to do with me. I began wondering why these folks didn't drop over here and pose their opinions to me.

So I asked them to. What follows is what I posted there. I'll be curious as to whether my invitation lures anyone...

Hi, so yesterday or so I posted here saying I was glad to see folks talking. Said also that I found the discussion interesting, and that often when I disagreed with a point it wasn't long before somebody chimed in with what I thought was wisdom. There were so many different points, though, and so many folks were talking to each other, that I didn't really feel inclined to weigh in. I was tired, too.

All this is still true. I'm still tired. But I've also been thinking about a few things… It began earlier today when I remembered that a few folks here seemed to doubt my assertion that there even was a black literature section in Borders. (And it's specifically Borders that I mentioned.) I think somebody else said explicitly that there WASN'T such a section in Borders. That did disturb me. For one, they didn't ask me about this, but spoke here. For another, I was a bit surprised that something so basic to my whole discussion would be casually set aside.

For the folks that lean that way - on what is that assertion based? A gut feeling? The fact that you haven't noticed it before? The notion that you don't like the idea of such a thing and therefore assume it doesn't exist? And if that's your line of thinking... where does that put me? Did I make it up? Do I not know where my OWN books are shelved in one of the major chain stores in the country? Or am I willfully making it up?

I didn't open the discussion based either on lies or on vast misunderstandings of factors that have affected my life for years. Let me be clear...

Borders as a chain does have a section of the stores cordoned off for Black writers of fiction. It's not there just for people that are writing about black issues, although most of the writers there are doing that. B&N does not have such a section. Borders does. It's not the same as a Black Studies or a Black History section. I've been to these sections many a time. (Have you?) I've seen my books there, and I've seen many other authors' books there. The discussion of what such a section means is one topic. Exactly which books by what authors may be fluid too. It's also possible that your Borders is in such a white area that the African American section has been eliminated. There are plenty of variables, but I say without fear that such sections do exist in many, many Borders.

So that's what I was thinking about earlier. But this evening I saw this post from Tia Nevitt at Fantasy Debut. It's a thoughtful post, but what struck me was when she pointed out that she thought responses on my blog were... politer than they might be. She said, "I think most white people feel held back most of the time. I hate to generalize, and this may not be true in your particular case, but for the most part, I think this is true." I agree. I found the responses on my blog largely supportive and introspective.

Which makes me wonder... Why are you all talking here to each other instead of talking to me? I was glad to be summoned, but I started this on my blog, and I can't attend to this Forum as I do to my own turf. Bring your opinions over there, where I'm obligated to respond. I do think it's great that you're talking to each other about this, but when it comes down to suggesting that I've lied or made things up I’"d much rather you bring that to me. You want to know if there's an African American lit section in Borders? Ask me. Tell me to prove it. I'll walk out of my house, get into my car, go up to Borders and take pictures. (I'll get some white folks to pose in them, just for balance.) Challenge me on it. Don't just talk amongst yourselves.

A lot of you are talking about what I said or meant here, but not all of you are doing me the courtesy of asking ME about it personally. Some of you have misinterpreted and misappropriated things I've said rather drastically. I'd rather you didn't define what I've said or what I mean - not unless you're speaking directly to me to find out how I'd respond. I can't answer all of it here, but I will if your address comments, thoughts, questions to me.

So bring your thoughts to me. HERE'S THE PLACE. Let's talk. Call me on something and I'll answer. I'll always do so with respect, and I'll always try to be clear and try to hear your side of things as best I can. We might both learn from it.

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Blogger Larry Nolen said...


I guess I'll post here some more, since I was the post starter there as well ;) I was going to mention in that thread (and here to you) something that I observed today. I was in Clarksville, TN for two different teaching-related interviews. Had about an hour's downtime and I went to the local Books-A-Million, where I noticed they did something similar. At the very front of the store, but to the left side, well out of sight of the entranceway, at the very beginning of the Fiction/Literature section, in smaller script below it, it said "African-American Fiction." About 150 books, judging by the two small subshelves of four each. Very mixed bag, from Alex Haley to L.A. banks to Toni Morrison to Zora Neale Hurston (I didn't see your first two books there, although I did look). Walked around a bit, saw further in the back, separate a bit from the other histories, African-American Non-Fiction. About the same size, but a bit more cohesive of a collection, I suppose.

Went back to the Fiction/Literature and went down the aisles. Found and picked up Pride of Carthage, then walked over the Fantasy/Sci-Fi wasteland on the other aisleway and saw Acacia there. So far, pretty much what you've described.

In regards to the posts over there at Westeros, I guess I'm learning more about just how difficult it is for people from different situations sometimes to stop and consider that being asked to think of things from a different point of view. I think some felt a bit too threatened and I wonder if that's another facet to this "color blindness" - out of sight, out of mind, out of fear's way.

That last bit is something that I've personally struggled with most of my adult life. Is what I'm saying/showing with body language something other than what I'm consciously intending? Are the words I use and the way they are used putting up peoples' backs?

Then I decided (this came about mostly due to my experiences teaching ESL students down in South Florida) that it's better to go ahead and confront those fears, call the spade a spade, and be direct and to talk about matters. I suspect what Tia said in her excellent blog entry is very true (and I saw this in some of the comments at Westeros): People are so scared of talking about issues that we presume to be so divisive that hardly anything is accomplished while some might have the temerity to pat themselves on the back and think things have magically improved.

Who knows what people will make of this. I just know that I'm a reader who wants to know as much about an author and that author's background, influences, etc. before reading in order to prepare myself better to open myself up for ideas and approaches that are different than my own background. Maybe it just takes somebody challenging assumptions to get the ball rolling, even if it means some hurt feelings or anger. Agree or disagree?

Journey of a thousand miles...

1:53 AM  
Blogger Ran said...


Regarding the comment about Borders not stocking an AA section, the person who noted this said they had worked there in the past and from their experience sections were not divided up based on ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

Perhaps it was just her store, or just Borders policy at that particular moment, or possibly she's misremembering. I agree with you that I distinctly recall seeing AA sections at Borders stores in Miami (but this was ten years ago -- haven't been in one since moving out of the U.S.).

In general, the conversation on Westeros seems to me to cover a bit more ground than the issues you pose -- we do tend to wander a bit in our conversations (see the turn towards discussing focus on the text to the exclusion of authorial context).

And of course, talking on Westeros is just force of habit for many people. Moving the conversation elsewhere, or at least part of the conversation elsewhere, may simply seem inconvenient or unappealing.

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quote, David. I took a look at the Westeros forum and whew! There's a lot of people talking over there.

I'm going to have to take a tour of my Border's like Larry did. Has anyone checked out Books-a-Million?

5:50 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

There are many reasons why people may discuss a topic in one online forum rather than another. As Elio said, it may just be laziness or convenience. People post where they are used to posting. But there are other reasons too.

The Westeros folks may stick with their site out of loyalty to George. They are his fans, and they want his site to be seen as highly popular.

Or they might be worried that if they were to express a contrary opinion on your site they might get dumped upon by legions of your fans. Remember that most of them don't know you or your blog, and some blogs are less welcome to outsiders than others.

And of course there may also be someone who says something outrageous just to stir things up. Where are you more likely to crack an offensive joke: in the company of friends, or in a stranger's house?

One of these days people will do sociology theses on blog dynamics. Maybe they are starting to do so already. But most of us are still learning how these things work.

7:03 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hello, thanks for writing in. This is just a quick message as I'm rushing out the door to start my last day of orientation. I won't be back until the end of the day, but I'll respond to folks then.

I do note that there are lots of reasons to talk things through on various Forum. That's where the topic was brought up, and I'm glad about that. But the invite to speak directly to me here remains.

Okay, gotta go. Back later,


10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People are so scared of talking about issues that we presume to be so divisive that hardly anything is accomplished while some might have the temerity to pat themselves on the back and think things have magically improved.

I think that this is very true, and I'm going to bring up something that gets brought up at times in activist spheres: that the move towards being PC took away our ability to communicate effectively with one another. Unfortunately, a lot of those people who pat themselves on the back are the white "allies" themselves.

On the flipside, I'm going to say that these issues are foreign, to varying degrees, to a lot of the majority white sci-fi fans. Which gets into why this is such a divisive issue that makes people so scared.

I have a real hope however that undermining hegemonic thought will become one of the focuses of the sci-fi/fantasy community. Looking into the future and speculating isn't just about technology and its ramifications, but the issues that will develop socioculturally if they continue not to be addressed...

10:48 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi, back from my final day of orientation misery. It's behind me. I'll soon be into the wine. But first I should attend to these comments...

Larry, very interesting. I don't even know if I've ever been in a Books-A-Million, but the layout you describe feels pretty familiar.

As for communications between people from different situations... Man, I think our society - largely influenced by the media - has really moved away from encouraging meaningful discourse. Think of the talking heads on any of the cable news channels. They each speak from their specific point of view, each speak across each other, not to each other. None of them ever, ever, admits that someone they disagreed with just made a good point. Isn't that weird? If they're supposed to be debating shouldn't there be some possibility that the debate will lead to one or the other side understanding the issue from a different light? But that never happens. My jaw would drop in amazement if it did, but I'm not counting on that. (Also, we only use our tv for dvd's, so I only watch cable news when I'm in airport or hotel. I'm an NPR man.)

So, I've no interest in engaging in argumentation that's not intended to move people's thoughts forward. I do think that there were a couple of instances in the responses to my post when people expressed differing opinions. But in each case I responded, respectfully trying to clarify my point and explain through examples how I reached the conclusions I have. In pretty much each case the other person acknowledged that they hadn't quite thought of it that way, or hadn't known that, or admitted they'd give it some further thought. I love that. It's not cause I'm out to win. (Another point for me - and I'm stealing them from you!) It's just that expressing myself clearly and making some connection with another person is the victory - for both of us.

But, yes, journey of a thousand miles. At least...

Oh, and when you say you "picked up" a copy of Pride of Carthage does that mean you literally picked it up (and then put it down again)? Or do you mean you bought a copy? (As the author I can't help but wonder...)

Elio, I hear you on all those points. By the way, I think it's pretty easy to misremember. But it's a whole lot easier when the issue your misremembering doesn't have much influence on your life. When it does you don't forget so easily. That's why I take a bit of umbrage from someone casually dismissing something I KNOW has been a part of my life and the life of other people and groups I care about. It's a bit insensitive, and I'd encourage people responding to this topic to try to see it as so.

Tia, actually, it was Books-A-Million that Larry was talking about. But it sounds to me like a similar setup to the majority of Borders I've been in. (And, for the record, I've been in many, many more Borders than most people talking about this issue. I'm an author. I've been on five national book tours. That includes Borders coast to coast, North to South.)

Cheryl, well I hope if you've poked around here a bit you've seen that my blog isn't a place that people get dumped on. I don't do that. And I wouldn't welcome it from anyone. It's far more productive to exchange with respect. Instead of enjoying taking a jab at someone, I enjoy making a point clearly.

Nathan, all I can do is agree.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

Yeah, I hear ya when it comes to enduring TV pundits blabber over and through each other's monologues. I get a sort of perverse pleasure on bored late nights watching the Fox News repeats, just to see how poor the discourse is as well as to challenge my own assumptions of matters. One of the better critiques of this was done by Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. A couple of years ago (before they canceled the program), he appeared on CNN's Crossfire and basically asked the two Lib/Con guys why they just didn't talk about matters instead of interrupting each other and spouting monologues rather than engaging in dialogues. I thought it was a very important point that sailed way over the head of those two, alas.

It is rather sad to see more and more people think that talking about matters from different points of view has to be a zero-sum game with "winners" and "losers." It's as if many just don't want to be perceived as being unwilling to learn from another who holds different viewpoints, but yet their actions indicate otherwise. After a while, it's just so difficult to continue on with it, which I'm afraid only makes matters worse.

And yes, I bought Pride of Carthage for reading sometime in the next month or so (I have tons of review books to do in the next few weeks, but when the mood strikes, I'll try to read it). I'll let you know what I thought of it when I finish (maybe as a blog entry on my second, personal blog that's devoted to other reads than SFF).

And on a barely-related note, I noticed in your original blog entry that you had several Mario Vargas Llosa books there, but I couldn't tell by the blurry photos if you had Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. I love both of them, especially for how they tackle inequalities among the various groups in their homelands and I was wondering if you had any personal favorites out of the Boom Generation (Carlos Fuentes being another excellent writer of that period).

I guess my innate curiosity cannot be stopped, but only can be contained for a time...

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not usually do this, but since you invited us, I'd like to comment on a few things.

It began earlier today when I remembered that a few folks here seemed to doubt my assertion that there even was a black literature section in Borders.

Elio has already commented on this, but I'm not sure anyone doubted your assertion. There was the standard "You Americans have black literature sections in your bookstores?! We have no such thing here!" from some of the Europeans and then somebody who works at Borders said that the African-American section there is by subject rather than by author with a few famous exceptions that are in more than one section.

Why are you all talking here to each other instead of talking to me?

A few reasons. First, many people on that forum have been there for years. A thread there is rather like a conversation among friends. I may never have met them (for reasons of geography; the ones that live near each other do meet in person), but I know many of them quite well and there is no hesitation in starting up a conversation with them (unlike with people I don't know). Second, like Elio said, it is force of habit. Third, this website seems to think that because I am currently in France, I speak French (I kid you not; the entire interface is in French and I only vaguely understand what it means). And fourth, I don't have an account here (so I'm signing this with my Westeros screen name in case you saw me in the other thread).

To address your original point (the one that started the thread): I was not born in the US and its divisions along racial lines are foreign to me. That is, I do not intuitively understand why you (and, judging by the other thread, many others) make such a big deal out of the amount of melanin present in the skin of an individual -- although it is very clear that it is important to you. I believe you when you say it has had it is part of your daily life and it has affected your career. But I simply do not see where you get the certainty to make statements like this one:

Small test... I'd be interested to ask each "color blind" reader when was the last time they read something by a black author. They might shrug and say, "I don't know. Remember, I don't pay attention to an author's race." My translation of that - they probably haven't read a black author since a college lit course, because if they had they'd KNOW they had.

How would they know? For example, my answer to this test is: a few months ago. But the only reason I can tell you this is because somebody in the thread at Westeros mentioned that Samuel R. Delany is black. I did not know it from reading his story and I don't see how I woudl have learned it otherwise.

As you can probably tell by now, I'd much rather live in a world where skin color did not matter this much and the way I am trying to contribute to bringing it about is by not acting based on it and preventing others from doing so. For example, if I shopped at Borders (which I do not) and noticed that they segregate by race (meaning, by author rather than by subject), I'd complain and when this would most likely have no effect, I'd stop going there. But I would never buy a book from the segregated section just because it was from there -- that strikes me as a racist action.

-- Altherion

10:09 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Awesome that you came over and responded. I mean it. I love it that you said the things you did and that you're posing them to me directly. I'm writing this brief note latish in the evening, though, and I'm well into the red wine. (You may have noticed that I've been going through state institution orientation employment misery. I'm now sauced to compensate...)

So I'm just penning this quickly as Gudrun puts the kids to sleep. Then we'll finish watching Perfume: Story of a Murderer, and then I'll fall blissfully to slumber.

All this to say that I'll respond in depth to your comments tomorrow. You've done exactly what I want people to do - challenged me with intelligent responses/questions AND given me the chance to respond.

I'll do that on the morrow.



12:48 AM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

David: No way was I intending to suggest that people posting here would get savaged. I merely note that they might worry that they would, because there are other places where this would happen.

I think our society - largely influenced by the media - has really moved away from encouraging meaningful discourse

That is so true. Must talk to you about belief circles at some point.

As to bookstores, I think it worth noting that a large book chain is likely to be vary wary of being accused of being racist. If they have separate Afro-American fiction sections, they may think that they are being helpful. I'm sure that is no comfort to Afro-American writers who find their work exiled to a ghetto, but these days most major retailers do think a lot about market segmentation.

What does this mean? Well, it may mean that, in areas where there are few Afro-American customers, there will be no Afro-American section, whereas in areas where the store thinks that many people will be looking for work by Afro-American writers they have a separate section to help those people find the books that they want.

For the record, I have seen stores that do not have a separate Afro-American section, and I have seen one store (in Boston, I think, but my memory is fuzzy) where the romance section was divided between "white" and "non-white". That struck me as very weird.

I also note that I have seen conversations about the SF&F ghetto in bookstores where some fans have loudly demanded that their books be given the respect of inclusion as "literature" whereas others have said that they love the categorization and wish the stores would separate out the SF from the fantasy so as to make their shopping even easier.

In San Francisco we have at least one bookstore that specializes in catering to the Afro-American market. I recall Nalo doing a reading there once. We also have bookstores that cater to the LGBT community, and of course bookstores that cater to the SF/F/H community.

So it is all rather complicated. I guess it is all part of the process of learning that living in a multi-cultural society means having people who are different-but-equal, not having everyone cast from the same mold.

8:36 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


All good points. And it is complicated. I didn't, by the way, think you were suggesting they'd be jumped on. I go ya.


I'm going to respond to a few things you said here, and respond to the last part in a separate post.

I did feel that some folks weren't entirely accepting of my assertion. I do recall somebody saying they worked at Borders and saying that Borders didn't have an African American section. When I read it I felt like she'd just brushed aside all the experiences I'd had as an African American reader and author. If I'm wrong on that I apologize, but I do think that's what she said.

But, that aside, I'd love to think that people weren't doubting my assertion but were just talking about it instead. It's reassuring that you feel that way about it, and I’ll take that on board.

I'm very familiar with Europeans responding that way. I've spent enough of my adult life in Europe to be very familiar with that. I'd love it if we'd share that enlightenment.

Since I have lived five or so years adult (writing) years in Britain, though, I can point out they don't have it perfect either. In Britain, at least, at the same time they don't have an African American (just talking specifically about this category) they also don't have nearly as many books by African Americans on their shelves as they might think.

An example... in 2002 I was up for a Legacy Award from the Hurston/Wright Foundation. This is an award given by a group of black judges for published work by black authors in Fiction, Debut Fiction and NonFiction. It's just a way of saying that since black books are rarely on the radar screen of most mainstream award juries we're going to have our own party and give kudos to people we think have done good work. There were five finalists in each category. So fifteen in all. Fifteen books by black authors that had been well-received in general, and were award quality.

My question: how many of these titles do you think were published in Britain at the time (which was for most of them almost two years after their original US publication)?

The answer: one. And that one was published in the UK because it's Walter Mosley, a bestselling crime writer whose books have been adapted to film on several occasions. Nice that he's on the shelves in the UK, but he was there because he's a bestseller in a popular genre.

The other fourteen of us, though, didn't even have a crack at a UK audience cause we weren't published there. And UK readers didn't have any chance of coming across us in a bookstore, cause we weren't there.

I was living in Scotland at the time of this award stuff. (I won in my category, by the way.) My knowledge about this is intimate. As I wrote elsewhere British publishers didn't touch my writing UNTIL I began to write books not as obviously about racial themes. I certainly found Brits surprised by these things when I pointed it out. Many seemed to assume that most stuff published in America was published in Britain too – at least, enough of it that they were getting plenty of variety from the US. Not so. My math has it just the opposite. By a vast majority, most stuff published in America is not available in British editions. (Internet has helped, of course, but I’m talking about UK publications that sit on the shelves of UK stores.)

By pointing this out I’m not saying UK publishers have any responsibility to publish more American authors. I’m just pointing out what the situation is.

Sorry about that French thing. I’m sure that most coming from the Westeros wouldn’t have that problem. I lived in France too, by the way. It’s there that I wrote my first novel, Gabriel’s Story.

Points taken on the nature and community of Westeros. That all makes perfect sense. Where I was coming from is that I'd been summoned. (Which I appreciate.) But on getting to the Forum there were so many comments that I couldn't possibly respond to them all. And a lot of them were no longer about me, but were folks moving off in different directions with their conversations with each other. That's fine, of course.

But the further it went the more I saw some people declaring something I'd said and then attacking it. That would be fine too, except that on many occasions I didn't feel I'd said what they thought I said in the first place. Somebody used the expression "straw man". By that point I felt like a some sort of a straw man, standing there with other peoples' words coming out of my mouth.

So that's why I put out the invitation. If anyone wants to know what I really feel or mean I'm happy to talk. I wouldn't suggest that the Forum shouldn't carry on talking. Indeed, my first post there thanked you all for talking about the subject. I still feel that way, but I can see that the Forum is mostly a place for the members to talk to each other. I offered coming over here as a way of talking with me in addition to that.

Okay, so that's that for this part. I'm putting up a new post, though, that addresses the last part of your comments. I hope you'll take a look at it.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Sejong said...


(My handle over at the GRRM board is TerraPrime, for those who care.)

To expand a bit more on why very few people have popped over here on your site to discuss the matter, I'd say that it's because your original comment was very much a seed that started people talking, and it is probably more a matter of a force of habit to continue talking over there.

With regards to the content of your post on being a color-blind reader, I am in agreement with your assessment. I think what people are tripping up on is the line that separates "paying attention to the race of the author" and "judging an author by his/her race." We're not asking people to consider works by authors who are of minority status to be superior, good, or even passable. We are not asking people to endorse a book simply because the author is a member of the minority. That would indeed be racism, for we would be pre-judging the value of a piece of work based only on the race of the author.

However, what we (or at least I) want people to do is to consider how the racial status of an author may affect his/her work, in ways immediate and indirect. I think one of your original point about the bookstore's categorization is to point out that some authors do not get a fair chance of being exposed to the possible readers as a result of the skin color of the author. That's a sociological issue, and not about the quality of the work. The book can be a Pulitzer Prize winner, or it can be worse than Terry Goodkind. The point you were making, as far as I can tell, is that the playing field isn't exactly even. Since the bookstores/distributors/promoters harbor such a fierce and rigid categorization scheme, it makes sense that it then falls upon the discerning readers to make sure that their selection has not been pre-arranged as a result of the author's race. I thought it made imminent sense, and I am both annoyed and baffled that others have taken that point completely the wrong way into thinking that we are asking people to read books by black authors simply because they are black (though, it can't hurt them to expand their horizons a bit, but then we will indeed be making a value judgment that their horizons are narrow, and people tend not to like that).

That said, I would like to make a slight counter-point on the value of segregated sections. As a bisexual person, I do want to look for books explicitly and genuinely reflect my life experience in some ways. The overwhelmingly hetero-normative mode of writing that so many authors indulge in can be as suffocating as a wet blanket. Sometimes, not always, I want to read about a gay or a bisexual main protagonist. I want to read a novel with a romance component that is not heterosexual. I want to see what other people imagine gender dynamics for queers would be in a world where X (FTL travel, Alien invasion, dragons and magic are real, etc) happens. I want those things because I crave reflection of myself in the arts and literature. It is often impossible to convey to someone of the majority group why it is so important to see reflections of ourselves in the media. I recall Whoopi Goldberg gave an interview about Star Trek and she said that what was so powerful to her was that when she first saw the original series on TV, she noticed that there's a black lady on TV and she was not a maid! Whoopi is exactly right.

So whatever minority group it may be, I think there's a place for literature written by that group for that group, and there's nothing wrong with it. I know some would accuse me of being a separatist, of denying the universal human connection that brings us all together. Well duh, I already know that. But in reality, this universal human connection is wonky and full of static noise. As a non-straight person, and as a racial minority, I do have life experience that's different from that of the members of the majority. Of course we all love, hate, hurt, and experience joy. But we don't all experience love under the same conditions or with the same level of acceptance. My experience as a minority is part of who I am and I am not going to neatly tug it under the bookflap when I crack open a book.

I think for me at least, there'll always be a tension between acceptance and respecting my own different life experience. Balancing one against the other can get tricky. I do not want to be treated as an outsider, but sometimes I am, and so it would be silly of me to pretend otherwise. Until I see regular and genuine inclusion of same-sex romantic pairings in mainstream books, I will continue to find the LBGT section of the bookstore useful.

12:26 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Larry, yeah, sorry the photos are blurry. Somebody (I won't say who) dropped our digital camera. Now the flash doesn't work and the focus seems wonky. For some things it works great, but for the life of me I couldn't get it to clearly focus on the books. I might try again just to clean it up bit.

I was big, big Vargas Llosa fan in college. I particularly like his early work - The Time of the Hero, The Green House, Conversation in the Cathedral, in particular. They were dense and complex and poetic, popping with real world cultural diversity: Spanish and African, Japanese and Indian and more. I often think Americans don't recognize how much crossing of borders goes on all over the world. People don't just immigrate to America, folks.

I remember once sitting at a little Chinese shack of restaurant in the islands off Belize, eating stir fried conch, listening to Reggae music blasting from Rastafarian house next door, watching a rainbow coalition of kids play on the beach. A lot of the world looks like that, and some of that's reflected in Vargas Llosa's work.

I have one complaint about one of the books, though. The cover of Conversation in the Cathedral shows two Hispanic looking men sitting at a table. Wrong. One of them should be black. The conversation of the title frames the entire book, and it happens between two men, one of them a black man. Nobody that knows anything about the book would fail to notice that, so the cover was an overt decision on the publisher's part. I'm just saying...

I do have several Marquez books also, including One Hundred Years of Solitude. I also particularly enjoyed his short stories. Anyone that hasn't read A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings should go track it down. It's a core work of Magic Realism, but in many ways that just means it's a particularly good piece of speculative fiction that's been read and loved by people that don't usually read speculative fiction.

I've got Fuentes as well. They were all very important to my early development as a writer. They opened my eyes to the world of literature out there. There's a Julio Cortazar story - We Loved Glenda So Much - that I still find myself bringing up and recommending to folks. The Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier is another. I recommend his The Kingdom of this World if you get a chance.

2:31 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Kai, complete agreement. You've read me correct on all accounts, and I appreciate the added perspective you bring to the discussion as well.

As a writer, I thank you for reminding me to include gay and lesbian characters in my work. No reason not to. You are as much a part of our world as anybody else, and it makes sense to me that you should be part of my fictional world as well. Sometimes, though, as a straight person I need to think INTENTIONALLY to make sure I'm not overlooking things.

I do have a gay character in Walk Through Darkness. He has a small role, though, and it's possible that nobody but me knows that he's gay. He also has a child - that might throw people off too. There are two in Pride of Carthage. They're actually major characters. There sexuality is alluded to, but it's subtle enough that I bet a lot of readers gloss right over it.

Acacia doesn't have any lesbian or gay characters that I can remember right now. But bare with me. The series has just begun. If you read it as some point, Kai, you might well find reflections of yourself in the pages of my work.

Thanks for the reminder.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...


It seems we have a lot of books in common when it comes to favorites! :D Although I'll admit I haven't yet read Vargas Llosa's earliest works (I was thinking of (I'll try to render these into English, as I only have them in Spanish) The War of the End of the World and The Feast of the Goat in regards to how he tackles some important ethnic/racial and social-class issues. I have a lot of respect for the guy and his 1971 out-of-print biography on García Márquez is a masterpiece as well (I was lucky that my local university had it on the shelf in the Spanish-language section). As for the cover for Conversation, doesn't surprise me one bit, although glancing at my Spanish-language covers, I have noticed that the cover art more or less reflects the appearance of the characters.

Gabo is indeed excellent and I well remember reading that short story that you mention. Have you tried the later works of his? Of Love and Other Demons is a relatively unknown work of his that touches upon the racial divides in pre-independence Colombia and especially the development of syncretism in regards to the merger of African, Carib, and Catholic religious beliefs.

I love Fuentes' work, same for Cortázar as well. Reading Rayuela (Hopscotch) was an eye-opening experience in how to construct a non-linear novel. I cannot recommend this one enough to people. As for Carpentier, not only have I read The Kingdom of the World, but I've also read his Century of Lights and The Lost Steps (this latter one I especially recommend for how it interweaves magical realism into a tale of a civilization that has lost its purpose, at least in the eyes of the narrator).

Reading these classics from all across the Americas has really exposed me to a lot of inequality that has and still is taking place there, some of it at the hands of the US. That scene of the banana strike/massacre in OHYS is based on a true event in 1928, which the Colombian government at the request of United Fruit covered up as much as possible. The different-colored houses representing the century-long divide into Liberal and Conservative and how that's led to groups such as FARC today is tragic. Or the treatment of the Quechua in a novel such as José María Argueda's The Deep Rivers could serve to illustrate cultural divides. And then there are Pedro Juan Gutierrez's "dirty realism" (realismo sucio) novels, which show the dirtiest and nastiest parts of Cuba today. Not to be forgotten, V.S. Naipaul's The Bend in the River was an excellent semi-autobiographical account of his time growing up on the very multicultural Trinidad, which I believe you know much more about than I do, right?

So much I've learned from those novels and from the students that I taught in West Palm Beach, FL from 2001-2003 as an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher. I learned of terms such as blanco, negro, mulatto, indio, mestizo, zambo, as well as all the different ways that gringo can be used (most of which oddly are much more neutral than what the Anglos believe). Sometimes I wonder if some of the reactions to being called "gringo" is a twinge of recognition that the names given to other groups might not be as neutral as we thought.

All I know is that I do stand out when around Latinos, even when some have fairer skin and even lighter hair and eyes than I do. That there are some who resent me being from Gringolandia, while others are drawn to me for the same reason. That many encourage me in my attempts to learn more about the various Latino cultures, with some showing that the skin tones mean something else at times in various parts of Latin America.

I've yet to visit there, but I am strongly considering a move at some point, once I can get the full ESL certs/degrees and get a trainer position. There's just something different about the outlooks of people in those regions that appeals to me, especially considering I grew up in the suburbs of Nashville, TN. Just thought I'd share this personal bit, since it fits well with the books we've been mentioning above.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Sejong said...

As a writer, I thank you for reminding me to include gay and lesbian characters in my work. No reason not to.

Thanks for taking the effort. It is truly appreciated. I felt giddy when I read Martin's Song of Ice and Fire and came upon the parts where he described the characters to be gay. I had liked the series quite well up to that point, so it's not that I don't like the series if it has no gay characters. Not by any means. But it is still nice to see that "people like me" exist in that universe, too.

I am not really looking for same-sex couples in every single book I read, but some more can't hurt. Once in a while, the landscape of SF/F reminds of the ridiculous nature of the TV sitcom "Friends." I do find some of the episodes very hilarious, and I watch them when they're on re-runs. But it breaks the boundary of credibility when a group of 30-somethings living in a fictional NYC encounters no black people. You just gotta ask yourself what on Gaia's green Earth is going on here, you know?

Anyhow, I confess that I have not yet read your books, but be assured that I will. Your name is already on my radar because I saw it mentioned a few times as one of the more promising "new" SF/F writers published this year. In fact now I am curious about whether I can spot the character whom you think maybe only you knew was gay.

11:20 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Larry, very interesting. I've just learned quite a bit about you. I knew you had good taste (you liked and wrote so insightfully about ACACIA, for instance), but now I know a lot more about some of the influences that shaped that good taste. I hope you do get to Latin America. I've been down south on a few extended trips myself - to Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica - and I've had a fascinating journey every time.

Kai, I went back and flipped through the parts of WALK THROUGH DARKNESS that include that gay character. It's as I remember. He's there, and I know his sexual identity as part of the background knowledge I have on his character. Whether other people notice I can't say.

Complete agreement about Friends. I did manage to enjoy watching the show, but... At least Will & Grace had Gregory Hines...

4:16 PM  
Blogger Larry Nolen said...

Yeah, I guess I did reveal quite a bit about myself and my fascination for cultures that are not my native one (which I do love despite the shortcomings). I guess I should add that when I was in grad school ten years ago (dropped out after my MA, burned out on academia then) that my concentration was in cultural history of Central Europe, particularly religious history/symbols of the early 20th century (fancy way of saying that I wrote monographs on the use of religious images in Nazi Germany). Ever since then, I've found myself looking at even my own native culture as if I were an outsider - it can be unsettling at times, but yet realizing that differences do not equate to threats to my own self-identity was one of the biggest lessons I've ever learned in life. Since then, when I come across something that appeals to me (particularly Cuban-style chicken and mojitos for cocktails!), I tend to integrate it into my own routine without losing any sense of myself.

Perhaps that is what needs to be the focus of people in discussing all these varying forms of literature and culture - that it's something that isn't threatening personally, not to mention something that might just enrich one's own life.

One can only hope...and speak out for this, unless the "color blind" want to be deaf as well.

7:43 PM  

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