We Can Talk about Books Too: A Statement of Intent

Thinking critically about stories probably came along only seconds after the first one was told. People have no shortage of thoughts and feelings about the endless stories humanity has to offer. But in publishing, we noticed a group of voices not getting much room to talk.

A short time ago, Dhonielle Clayton pointed out the lack of black reviewers providing perspective on her novel, THE BELLES. Unfortunately, some of the lamentable excuses used to explain an abysmal presence of black writers in the industry were used towards reviewers. And much like FIYAH had to disprove many of those weak notions, the idea began to simmer that the same would need to be done for this area of the field. Conversations occurred behind the scenes and what were inklings of an idea for FIYAH to participate in reviews became a goal to solidify something consistent. We had already done a few informal things in our social media to highlight books and uplift writers, but never so far as formal reviews.

But as our Art Director is always so apt to point out, FIYAH can’t sit around and wait for someone else to do the right thing. We have to do it ourselves (sometimes we ask Langston and Hurston for blessings along the way). And here we are, ready to come at you with reviews.  But as with so many things about our magazine, we aren’t going to box ourselves into the norms of how reviews tend to work in this industry. 

First and foremost, don’t just expect us to give our thoughts on “black” books. Yes, our mission is always, always about the black writer, but part of that is understanding we contain multitudes. White-ran publications have free reign on what they review without any pretext on having any preconceived lane, even though they’re likely the population in most need of it.  With that said, we will review whatever speculative fiction we want in the industry and apply our black lens to it. So if you’re sweating because your book doesn’t have a single black character in it, then yea you probably should be.

We won’t be bound to just reviewing new and upcoming books. A focus on the shiny new object of the month has left so many black books starved of air because we so rarely get to be the darling of publishing.  So we’ll review along whatever timeline we choose.  A book doesn’t stop being good and worthy of critical thought just because it came out five years ago. 

We’re going to tell you the areas of a book we aren’t qualified to review. Too many reviewers, particularly when discussing works from marginalized authors, fumble all over the place because they’re trying to speak on things they don’t really know a damn thing about or have the most minimal of range to discuss.  We’re going to avoid that as much as possible by asking our reviewers to be honest with themselves about topics they aren’t necessarily qualified to speak on.  A review should be a guide and not a singular statement of authority.

And finally, we will not attack authors. We will not make negative presumptions about the personal motives behind story choices.  We won’t insult an author’s education level.  We won’t drag in where the author lives, who they’re married to, how many kids they have etc. etc. into a review.  It doesn’t have a place in a review and moves the focus from being about the work to being about the vanity of the reviewer.  We won’t play into that ugly side of things.

Hopefully, what we will do is have fun, talk about some awesome work and help authors potentially reach new readers. And if we truly succeed, another black author won’t ever lament having a lack of people writing about their story from a viewpoint of blackness. 

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