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Ask the Agony Editor: on being a woman writer of colour in CanLit

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Don’t be afraid to call someone out for thinking you’re Toni Morrison

Brian-Francis-FinalDear Agony Editor,

I’m a female writer of colour who has been publishing fiction for eight years. Whenever I’m invited to a party, writers and publishing types often mistake me for the other six female writers of colour who go to these things. How do I politely correct them? Or do I just drink a big glass of wine and continue nodding, silently pretending I’m somebody else?

Signed,
Not Mrs. White

Dear Not Mrs. White,
As a gay guy in CanLit, I can appreciate your dilemma (“I absolutely adored Not Wanted on the Voyage!”). But I’m white. And male. Which means even if I tried to answer this, a Peanuts teacher would still make more sense. So I turned to three female writers of colour to sound off on your problem. Here’s what they had to say.
Farzana Doctor, author of All Inclusive: I hear you – CanLit spaces are predominantly white and not always welcoming to people of colour. If you have the energy for it, I suggest confronting the bias in a direct and non-shaming way: “Actually, I’m X. I, too, sometimes mix-up people with the same ethnicity.”
Suzette Mayr, author of Monoceros: If you can stomach it, treat the moment like a chance to present your figurative business card. So when the person says, “Oh hi, Toni Morrison!” you answer, “I’m X, the author of Y.” Hopefully, the person will be so mortified they will buy your book.
Jen Sookfong Lee, author of the upcoming The Conjoined: Drink the wine. Correct every single person who gets your name wrong by saying, “My name is actually XYZ. And you must be Peggy.”

Come to think of it, I’ve been called Peggy a few times myself. Must be the open-toed pumps. Also, who knew so many writers of colour go by the names of X and XYZ? You learn something new every day.

Since I did diddly-squat for this column, I’m donating my fee to a local women’s shelter. Pay it forward when you can, folks.

 

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.