Diversity of Voice and Theme

In the description of An Alphabet of Embers Kickstarter, I wrote:

I am committed to diversity of voice and theme in all my editorial projects, and this one will be no exception. I will be looking for beauty and resonance from all quarters and in all forms. As always, I am invested in supporting creators that belong to marginalized groups.

Due to external conversations going on in the field, I want to unpack this a bit. “Diversity of voice and theme” has been my motto from the moment I started thinking about Stone Telling magazine, long before I read my first submission. I keep muttering it as we – Shweta and I – read submissions and make decisions. It is a useful phrase for us.

Diversity of theme: writing that showcases a range of settings, and protagonists who belong to a variety of demographics.

Basic diversity of theme, i.e. a variety of settings and protagonists, is not too difficult to accomplish; writers are happy to write to your editorial specifics. But if you, as an editor, are only considering diversity of theme, you run the risk of having only not-marginalized or lesser-marginalized authors write about marginalized protagonists. E.g. you may end up with stories set in Japan, Australia, Mali, Peru, but written entirely by white North Americans; you may run stories with queer and trans characters written entirely by straight, cis authors.

Diversity of voice is about featuring work by authors who belong to a variety of demographics. Women, men, and nonbinary authors; PoC, white people, and people who identify as neither (the distinction of PoC/white as it’s generally understood in a US American context may not be perfectly generalizable worldwide; the lines can be drawn differently elsewhere); authors who identify as LGBTQIA and those who don’t; atheists, agnostics, and people of various faiths; able-bodied and people who live with disabilities; people variously stratified by class; old and young people; neurotypical and neuroatypical authors; immigrants and those who never immigrated; people from a variety of countries writing in a variety of Englishes; and more.

This type of diversity is harder. It may not instantaneously appear in your slush; multiply marginalized people sadly tend to self-reject, and are often understandably wary of editors without a track record. I wrote previously about encouraging diversity, from an editorial perspective. You will likely have to reach out. You will likely have work to do, as an editor, to recognize and value different types of narrative, as diversity of voice often comes with diversity of storyshape, some of it will be unfamiliar to you. You’ll have to talk to other people, ask for opinions about some of the pieces you are considering. It’s sometimes a painful process. You’ll make mistakes; you will be called out on your mistakes. All this is a part of the process, a part of the struggle to diversify the field and our reading habits.

For me, the best editorial work lies in the balance between the two kinds of diversity. You will likely accept some work where there is a match between voice and theme. You will also accept some work where there is no match between voice and theme; e.g. an Indian author may not write about Indian protagonists, a straight person will write lesbian characters insightfully, a trans author will write about cis people, a person who’s never immigrated will write cluefully about immigration, etc, etc. This variety in voice and theme is key in order to avoid tokenization and to avoid limiting writers of all demographics to only their own experience. And when there is a mismatch between voice and theme, as an editor it is your job to work to distinguish between appropriative, disrespectful, underresearched, and plain clueless work, and work that engages well.

Diversity of voice and theme is hard editorial work, but it is rewarding and worthwhile.