A Northwest Based Literary Journal

A Week-Long Discussion on Diversity in Literature: Day 5

All this week Tahoma Literary Review is offering a discussion of diversity in literature, with posts from a TLR contributor or editor. We hope the series will lead to a lively discussion. Comments are open this week.


Defining Diversity from an Editor’s Perspective

By Yi Shun Lai

An editor who doesn’t seek out unique points of view isn’t doing her job. Uniqueness of expression is equally important. Every writer should seek to convey his or her story in his or her own voice.

For this editor, the sweet spot lies in the intersection: a unique viewpoint and subject matter, coupled with a great voice, signals a piece I’ll seriously consider.

But what defines a unique viewpoint? For this editor, diversity is perhaps defined more broadly:

In issue 2, I’ve accepted a story by a guy who’s Caucasian, and older, but his story about his work in Afghanistan comes from a perspective I hadn’t considered before.

I considered heavily a story that was told from a minority POV, but whose prose, ultimately, didn’t move me.

I wanted badly to take an essay from a minority within a minority, but the writer and I could not come to an agreement about the format of the work.

The overlap between good prose and unique points of view seems smaller when I look back at the work I was lucky enough to receive in my submission queue this reading period. But I know it has the capacity to grow.

This is partly why I ask for the work you never thought would get published elsewhere, works you’re a little scared to send out. If you’re anything like me, writing about where you come from—an ethnicity, a sexual orientation, a point in your career—feels a little like a cop-out. Like it’s low-hanging fruit, not challenging enough, because it is who you are, after all, and it’s maybe not “hard enough” to write about or from that POV, since, well, you live it every day.

I’m 40. I didn’t start writing about it was like to be Asian until five years ago.

I get it. But let me ask you this: if part of the struggle to publish is submitting, then shouldn’t you also be asking yourself why it’s so hard to send in that piece you wrote about being LGBTQ, or American Indian, or Pakistani?

I ask for diversity because it is hard to write about if you’re not living it. And because minority voices have to be heard. And finally, because, well, maybe the fact that it feels like a cop-out is a sign that you’re uniquely qualified to write about it, and so, we need to hear whatever it is from you.

The stuff that makes you go a little liquidy inside? That’s the stuff I want to see. Don’t sell yourselves short.

Yi Shun Lai is Tahoma Literary Review’s  Nonfiction Editor. She has been a writer and editor for oh, practically ever. Her work appeared most recently at CutbankOnline.orgThe-Toast.netTheHairpin.com, and in Apeiron Review. In a previous life, she worked in the environmental and outdoors journalism field and wrote for the legendary J. Peterman catalog. She has a degree in fiction from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and believes that a good story trumps genre any day. She writes corporate copy for everyone from lingerie retailers to sustainable-furniture designers in her spare time. Find her on Twitter @gooddirt.

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Categorised in: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry

4 Responses

  1. That’s a great point! I have a number of stories I’m afraid to send out because they’re just so weird, so unlike the type of stories that are published regularly. I do also feel like I’ve had to learn to love my “cop-out” stories, while my true loves seem to be the ones I don’t think will place anywhere. Maybe I’ll send out something weird today…

    Thanks for the POV!

    • Hi Leland,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. If we can just get everyone who’s ever said, “I’ve always wanted to write about…” to send something in, and feel like they have the authority to do so, imagine how rich our worlds would be.
      Thank you for contributing. As always, it’s a pleasure to see you online.

  2. Thanks for this very energetic piece ! I love how your blog post focuses on problem-solving – on getting the work out there and trying to help the writer figure out what might be wrong if the project in question isn’t making it into the greater world. Practical and action oriented, and that’s always both useful and appreciated. Thanks again.

  3. I have enjoyed this series. In my 50s now I am beginning to address in writing, themes that are specific and unique to my experience. The decision to do so was very difficult. I am a transgendered person who grew up with no context for my deep and troubling gender dysphoria and when I finally made sense of things and did begin transition from female to male I became invisible on the far side of the equation. That invisibility was treasured and writing about this experience would have required outing myself. But maintaining that invisibility has come with costs and I now know that for myself and for my own creative expression I have to be willing to pull down the walls I have constructed and tell the stories that I am simply not hearing, those that in some ways are specific to transgendered peple of my generation.

    Being truthful often means being vulnerable and that often provides a barrier to honest exploration of many facets of the diversity of human experience.

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