Publishing as Möbius Strip

A writing friend of mine has signed up for a workshop with a well-known writer, and just found out everyone else in the group has publishing credits from upper tier publications. She will too, in time, because her work is that good and she sends it out dozens of times monthly. (embarrassing to suddenly realize I haven’t submitted work since last spring. Aie.)

In the meantime there’s that sense of trepidation caused by the difference in publishing track record.

But it’s always something, right? We aren’t this, we haven’t done that, we don’t write in the most sought after publishing niches or fields.

In the middle of replying to my friend about this, one of many brilliant Bay Area Book Festival moments came back to me. A couple years back I attended a talk with a panel of African authors. One of them, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, from Uganda, told us about push-back her manuscript had received on its way to publication because the names of her characters might be difficult for anglophone readers.

She’d grown up studying Shakespeare and other English language writers—work that did not reflect her own country or culture or the people she knew. Her point was, look, you can make that stretch too and meet my work and my characters where they live.

I’m paraphrasing, and any errors in transcription from her words via my memory are my own. Essentially her point was that she’d stretched to read and learn about an unfamiliar culture, and non-Ugandan readers are just as capable of doing the same. I felt like standing up to applaud.

It’s amazing how unfamiliar the obvious can look until someone points it out, which is just one of the many gifts of good writing and writers. For example, in this case, (my take) Hello in there, have you noticed your POV has calcified?”

Anyone who isn’t the expected bearer of insight etc. is always up against that dominant-culture calcification. But it’s not for that bearer of insight to keep quiet, it’s for the rest of us to stretch and pay attention.