The gatekeepers of publishing keep marginalized people from getting their work out there. Jemisin is proof that this practice needs to end.N.K. Jemisin just won her third Hugo award in a row accomplishing something that no other author in history has done. This wasn't a fluke, this wasn't a one off, Jemisin is proving that the stories Black women have to tell aren't just for other Black women. They're creative, powerful, and worth your time and money. Science fiction and fantasy have been genres dominated by white boys since time immemorial. Why? Not sure, since people from all across the spectrum have been creating spectacular work in the genre. Jemisin has come out to stop this erasure of diverse voices by taking home the Hugo Award not once, not twice, but three times in a row — a feat that has never been done before, not even by the most famous and prolific white boys. Jemisin has won the last three years since 2016, each year for a book in her Broken Earth trilogy, the first of which is being developed into a series for TNT. This accomplishment is amazing but also shows that Black women have been creating powerful and memorable works that deserve a space in larger, more mainstream arenas, something Jemisin highlighted in her acceptance speech on Sunday: “This is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers: every single mediocre, insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, and that when they win it’s meritocracy, but when we win it’s identity politics,” she said. “I get to smile at those people and lift a massive shining rocket-shaped finger in their direction.” Maybe this doesn't seem important if you think that science fiction and fantasy is just entertainment, but it's not. It is, at its heart a political and revolutionary genre. Sure there are aliens and ray guns but the work has always been about the human experience, our fears, our hopes. The problem is that the majority of the work that is considered classic, that gets notice and notoriety has been focused on the fears and hopes of white men, leaving out the entire spectrum of culture and reality that anyone else has to offer.
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Why is it so important to so many white artists that they maintain the right to be offensive to people disempowered relative to them?By Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein Novelist and commentator Kaitlyn Greenidge made a powerful argument in the New York Times last year that we don’t have to write what we know, but we do have to accept that if we are going to write what we don’t know, rather than have a temper tantrum when we receive criticism, we need to listen and then try to write better. Nothing reveals white anxiety more than someone complaining that they don’t feel free to upset people of color, and fearful rants against people of color in academic and literary contexts such as Francine Prose’s recent New York Review of Books anti-sensitivity screed are tiring and sad. They are a painful reminder that straight white cis voices continue to reign supreme in the literary discourse and that this dominance functions to silence marginalized people in multiple ways. The political priorities of straight white cis people are elevated above everyone else’s and questions of style and taste are addressed almost entirely in the context of how the conversation makes straight, white cis people feel. I know the easiest retort is that this is about freedom of speech. Yet as a staunch believer in the First Amendment (which we must constantly remind people is only about government censorship), I’m far less concerned about the imaginary legal issues here than about the very real impact of protecting writing that is racist in its mediocrity. Why is it so important to so many white artists that they maintain the right to be offensive to people disempowered relative to them? In the Trump era, what does it mean for literary leaders to worry about protecting these rights? As a queer Black femme and Editor in Chief of a literary publication with a mostly queer/trans person of color staff, The Offing, I struggled in the days after Trump became President-elect to put forward a professional face to the staff, even though I had spent most of election day in tears. I had not been excited about Hillary Clinton, yet the first round of tears came at 6:30 AM -- I had not been confident she had the election in the bag against an opponent far more terrifying yet bizarrely more savvy. Should we close shop, I asked? Resoundingly our editors said no. Publications that fearlessly seek out the best writing by marginalized writers and established writers trying their hand in new forms were needed in that moment more than ever. It was essential that our platform not disappear but rather continue and flourish.