Earlier this year, I ranted on Twitter. For about an hour, I bemoaned the state of the online literary magazine or, to quote Roxane Gayâ€™s recent tweet, â€œthe literary web,â€ and wondered why it all seemed the same to me. The same quirkiness; the same insular, inside jokes which inadvertently made people like me feel stupid. Literature for true hipsters, I suppose. Pardon my bitterness.
Anyway, I didnâ€™t see a slot for me in these little worlds–important literary cyber-planets, but small nonetheless–so I suppose I did the logical thing. I started my own literary magazine. But thatâ€™s not the point here; my shameless plugs can be found at www.twitter.com/thomasdemary.
Look, I understand my place. Iâ€™m a black male literary fiction writer–I have to wait for Mat Johnson and Colson Whitehead to disappear before I get a shot at the top spots. I consider myself a black writer–I own such a label–even if my stories arenâ€™t necessarily about black people.
What makes me a black writer is the same collection of historical and cultural kernels which run through much of the Diaspora–in other words, what makes me black beyond my tightly-packed melanin.
I guess what Iâ€™m saying is as a black person, I am well-versed in Exclusion, deliberate or otherwise. Iâ€™m used to it, even. I donâ€™t fit the mold of the stereotypical black male, which makes the situation more precarious amongst my own people. But–that is a whole separate topic.
I look around for online magazines and blogs which speak to me. Itâ€™s not that hard: Iâ€™m a two-time college dropout who listens to J-Dilla and reads BolaÃ±o; surely, there must be a place for me. I wonder if other writers of color, independent of their race or nationality, feel the same way.
Literature, at least here in America, was and remains dominated by white people. I should say, writers of color have a difficult time finding equal footing with their white contemporaries; one group of varied voices bellow over the multitudes. Again, I get it.
That this fact translates into the digital domain doesnâ€™t surprise me, though it should. I thought the Internet did away with barriers, divisions. Weâ€™re all a global community now: blogging, commenting, tweeting, posting, sharing, loving. Of course thatâ€™s not the case.
Indeed, I feel like a whiner. A website, even an online lit mag or blog, canâ€™t cater to every visitor. Which is why Iâ€™m not naming names or posting links. Conventional wisdom suggests I keep it moving. Go find a lit mag or blog which â€œspeaks to me,â€ but theyâ€™re hard to find. Maybe Iâ€™m looking in the wrong places. Or maybe they donâ€™t exist–well, not enough of them, anyway.
Itâ€™s vital for a writer to see his/her reflection among the hordes; kindred spirits, or mere like-minded folk, help dissuade the nagging notion that a writer is so odd, so specific in his/her proclivities and habits, likes and dislikes, that no reader (or editor) will dig his/her work. Iâ€™m talking about community, here: the healing factor found and activated between artists.
Itâ€™s fucking lonely being a black literary writer–or a black writer in general, I suppose. Community–artistic kinship–fosters creative growth and improves overall well-being; it helps to not feel like an outsider all the time.
Thatâ€™s the whole point, thatâ€™s the entire reason writers–singular, lonesome creatures–bother to fraternize with each other: to get something worthwhile out of it, something which can be applied to individual art. Without this, the writer can still succeed and grow–it just makes it that much harder, and perhaps less fulfilling.
I know how I feel, but I doubt Iâ€™m articulating it clearly. Iâ€™m reaching here, stretching my arm through the literary web to grab onto a truth. Maybe itâ€™s as simple as you donâ€™t like the site? Bounce! Cool.
All Iâ€™m saying is, for me–and maybe for other writers of color–all I do is bounce around. Looking for home. Looking to be understood. Looking to be respected as something other than a creator of black literature, as if the category is a foreign land ripe for occasional excursion or exploration. Iâ€™m not exotic–just different.
I want the literary web to look like me, selfish as that might seem. Just a little bit of the web. Even a tiny thread. A speck of dust.Â A mangled houseflyâ€™s wing ensnared. Something. Anything. Anything besides this literary homelessness.