Changed Behavior: SFWP and the Future of a Historically White Press

This is not a solidarity statement.

During times of turbulence, especially for marginalized communities, corporations put out statements of solidarity because they know that they must appear to support equality even if the actions of those corporations do not. I’m sure over the past few months, you’ve received and read countless statements from your healthcare providers, your employers, your gyms and rideshare services and delivery companies and any publisher, journal, or author with a newsletter.

And I bet they’ve all said about the same thing: we’re all in this together.

In referencing the COVID-19 pandemic, yes, we are. I’m sure you’ve received similar statements from those same businesses about supporting the Black community due to the protests that have sparked across the world in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. They’re doing things to prove they actually mean it, right? Donating proceeds. Uplifting writers of color, especially Black writers. Producing merchandise with the hash tag, #BlackLivesMatter. I appreciate these sentiments. I appreciate these actions. But as a Black woman, and one of the few POC on the SFWP team, this isn’t enough.

I didn’t want to write another solidarity statement for SFWP. It felt to me to write a statement was to add nothing to an echo chamber of nothing. Where is the action?

Solidarity statements will not keep writers of color from being disproportionately published in a mostly white industry. Solidarity statements will not keep LGBTQ++ and QTPOC writers from the pressure to write their trauma to seem legitimate in their identity and selfhood. Solidarity statements will not dismantle white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, or ableism. They are not actions. They are not policies. They are not revolutions.

So, this isn’t a solidarity statement. SFWP is aware of its history and the ways in which it has contributed to the status quo, even as its mission pushes against it. Andrew Gifford started this company to bring necessary work to the world, to republish deceased authors whose books had gone out of print, to tell the stories of people society deemed unimportant, uninteresting, or too much. Unfortunately, when we run our literary prize and our judge chooses a white writer (since winners make up 50% of our catalog) regardless of the race of the judge, we end up with a lot of white writers. When agents, who are mostly white, solicit and pitch us their clients, who are also mostly white, and the work is wonderful, we end up with, you guessed it—lots of white writers. We at SFWP acknowledge that—but we don’t apologize for it. The benefit of this press being around for so long is that we can change course. We have the advantage of history, allies, and resources. We can present our catalog of incredible books by mostly white authors, and say, “All right, these are good, but we need to do better.”

As KMA Sullivan of YesYes Books says, “If you’re a white publisher or editor today, lazy and racist are the same thing. Do the damn work.” That means soliciting writers of color through social media and online events, supporting initiatives for POC-only spaces, and working harder to find people of color working in the field rather than relying on your one Black friend to connect you to every single Black person on the planet.

Lazy and racist are the same thing if we keep pretending that the best way to support marginalized communities is to put out solidarity statements and pretend race doesn’t play a factor in publishing.

SFWP is committed to supporting marginalized identities. To prove it: since I joined this press, we have significantly increased our solicitation and prioritization of writers from marginalized identities, working harder to diversify our publishing lineups for the coming seasons. You’ll see it happen slowly (as deadlines dictate publication dates), but it’s happening.

More importantly, however, we actively divorce ourselves from authors, editors, and printers who uphold the principles of white supremacy, and not just through hate speech, symbolic and physical violence, and financial support for institutions that seek to exterminate these communities. It’s not enough to send out a statement—there must be consequences for clinging to a system that weeps for buildings before bodies.

If you’ve received a solicitation for your manuscript in the past few months from me, take it seriously. Take your time, but respond. When I say I believe in your work, that I want to make you famous, that your manuscript has the potential to save someone or change the world—I mean it. We mean it. This is about truth and equity and justice. A press that denies its part in racism is a press that deserves to suffer.

If you are a writer of any marginalized identity, your work, your body, your life matters. SFWP has historically not made that clear—and for that, we apologize. A real apology, however, is changed behavior—and change is exactly what revolution requires.

With unwavering love,

Monica Prince, with SFWP Staff & Authors

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