Over the weekend The Rumpus featured an interview with Vivian Lee, my editor at Little A. In addition to a shout out for Kings of Broken Things (coming in August 2017 from Little A) and some hilarious recollections of how the Pizza Hut Book-It program spurred on a lifetime of reading and a career as an editor, the space gives a glimpse of Vivian’s take on race and publishing. After getting together last Thursday at AWP in an L.A. ping-pong bar, I couldn’t be more excited to be working with Vivian and the Little A team on this book. This interview provides some insight as to why I’m so enthusiastic.
Be sure to check out the full interview. Here are a couple highlights:
Rumpus: I love how unapologetically blunt some of your tweets are when it comes to race. Like this one: “This may come as a surprise but the onus is not just on POC editors to acquire books by writers of color (esp bc there are so few of us).” What’s your MO as an editor?
Lee: When I tweeted that, it was because someone made a passing comment about how I could be known as the editor who only publishes Asian American authors. It was so othering to me. It made it seem like the only reason I was publishing authors was because we had a similar background. I’d like to think I’m publishing quality books—and it just so happens that a lot of these writers are of Asian descent. If it is a good narrative with an emotional core, then it’s a good book.
As far as my MO as an editor, I am interested in the beauty and transformational power of language and a good story and that’s what I gravitate towards. My list is predominantly writers of color mostly because I’m surrounded by wonderful communities of them and I want to be able to go to more readings and panels that aren’t comprised of all white or almost all white writers. I think I’m in a very good position at Little A as an editor of color to publish these voices and experiences that are not often heard. It’s a unique place to be in and it’s something I take very seriously.
Rumpus: What’s at the root of the diversity problem in publishing? What do you think needs to change?
Lee: There’s a lot of hand-wringing over the “diversity problem” but not a lot being done yet. I think the root of the problem goes back to my tweet earlier. Everyone in publishing needs to take accountability for diversity—not just POC editors. From the ground up we have to hire diverse editors, designers, marketers, publicists, etc. I do think once we change from the “inside out,” then publishing will realize that Junot Díaz, Zadie Smith, etc don’t have to be the sole voice of an entire group of people. I can’t speak for other houses, but I am excited to say that Little A is committed to publishing diverse stories, voices, and authors.
In my dream scenario as an editor, if we all seek out more writers of color and diversify our list, then agents will have to also diversify their list and seek out more writers of color, and readers will get more of a chance to read stories they normally wouldn’t read, and then more books by writers of color will be published. I’m pretty direct with agents about what books I want and it forces them to look at their own list and see where they can improve.