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In this penultimate installment of the Toonari Post’s interview with prominent fantasy author N. K. Jemisin, she elaborates on her famous blog post “Don’t Put My Book in the African-American Literature Section” and talks about the rituals she observes when she writes.
Toonari Post: One of most notable posts on your blog is the one where you talk about how your work is sometimes shelved in the African-American literature section. It’s a very powerful piece, and I was hoping you might elaborate on it for the benefit of those who haven’t had the chance to read it.
N.K. Jemisin: Well, I would encourage people to read the post itself because it’s a very complex issue, and it’s not something I can sum up easily, but I’ll try. The blog post is called “Don’t Put My Book in the African-American Literature Section,” and my feeling on it is that [the African-American literature section] is basically a form of segregation. It’s something that I think originally had good intentions. It was done because, back in the day, there weren’t a whole lot of books published by black authors or that had black characters. One of the reasons that people started highlighting those that did is because back then it was actually hard to find them.
So at one point, these sections served a good purpose. But nowadays, there are so many other ways to find this material, and nowadays it has become harmful. It’s a way for bookstores and publishers to effectively fission off, partition away, and hide works by authors of color. But it’s not just authors of color—the same thing happens to women’s fiction, as well as LGBTQI fiction. Anything that’s not white male mainstream literature gets shoved in the back of the bookstore. It doesn’t matter what the book is about; it doesn’t matter if the book has white protagonists. If the author is black, it gets shoved in that section. The end result is that it cuts into the sales of authors of color because their books aren’t as readily available. By cutting into their sales and by making it seem as though books by black authors don’t sell well, it becomes harder for black authors to sell more books, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
TP: Do you observe any particular rituals when you write?
NKJ: My favorite thing to do when I write is to go to a coffee shop, and the wonderful thing about Brooklyn is that there are coffee shops all over the place. I tend to find a coffee shop that has a good feeling to it. If they play music, it has to be the kind of music I can tune out and not the kind I’m actually interested in. They have to have good coffee, as well as little snacks and pastries. They also can’t be obnoxious about making you buy things constantly or else they’ll kick you out. I will write at home: I have a little space cordoned off that I use as an office, but I am a typical New Yorker with a typical tiny New York apartment and a very noisy, very attention-demanding cat who will periodically get up and start meowing at me for no particular reason.
TP: In addition to being a successful author, you also have a day job as a career counselor. How on earth do you juggle two full-time occupations?
NKJ: I honestly don’t think it’s that difficult simply because I don’t have other things that would make it more difficult. I’m not married, I don’t have any kids—you know, I have nothing but respect for authors who do because they’re the ones who I’m totally like “how on earth do you do it without becoming a neglectful parent or a bad spouse?” But in my case, all I’m juggling is two full-time jobs. So while it’s hard in some ways, it could be so much worse. Basically, I work all day, then I come home and either work out or go out with friends, but then I always try to do a little bit of writing. The weekends though are my golden writing time.
TP: Do you set targets for each writing session?
NKJ: Yes. On days after I’ve had a long day at work, my target is just 250 words—a page. Fortunately my workplace has allowed me to do a four day work week, so on my dedicated writing days my goal 1,500 words per session.
TP: Do you do your revisions as you write, or do you do them after you’ve finished the whole book?
NKJ: I revise as I write. In fact, I will usually begin a writing session by going back and reading over what I wrote the day before and tweaking that a little bit. That way, I’m in the flow of the language and the frame of mind that the character needs to be in, so I can continue it more easily.
Image Courtesy : Ktempest