I came across her blog post I Challenge You to Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year thanks to a notice posted on Facebook by Louis Antonelli (I’m aware that Louis can be quite controversial, but on the other hand, he’s frequented by a favorite SciFi author of mine Neal Asher).
Here’s part of what she wrote on her blog:
Back in 2012, I faced a conundrum. I write short fiction, and I wanted to get better at writing it. To do that I had to write, write, and write some more. But just as important was reading, reading, and reading a lot more. And I tried. But every time I thought about delving into one of the many science fiction and fantasy magazines at my disposal, or even reading compilations of the “best” stories that had been nominated for and/or won awards, my brain resisted.
Because every time I tried to get through a magazine, I would come across stories that I didn’t enjoy or that I actively hated or that offended me so much I rage-quit the issue. Go through enough of that, and you start to resist the idea of reading at all.
Then I thought: What if I only read stories by a certain type of author? Instead of reading everything, I would only look at stories by women or people of color or LGBT writers. Essentially: no straight, cis, white males.
Cutting that one demographic out of my reading list greatly improved my enjoyment of reading short stories. That’s not to say I didn’t come across bad stories or offensive stuff in stories or other things that turned me off. I did. But I came across this stuff far less than I did previously.
Now, Ms. Bradford presents herself as:
I’m K. Tempest Bradford, a Black, queer, cis woman (pronouns: she/her) currently roaming the world writing, researching, and doing my best to change the culture for the better.
Well, I’m none of those things, and if I had to describe my writing, I’d say “currently staying at home, keeping social distance, writing, researching, and doing my best to create good stories.”
I suspect when Ms. Bradford says “doing my best to change the culture for the better.” she probably means “doing my best to create, mold, and force the culture to adhere to my personal standards, and anybody else’s viewpoints be damned.”
Okay, that was probably a little harsh, but given the nature of her blog post, maybe not.
I first fell in love with science fiction thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom (Mars) series, starting with A Princess of Mars. I then progressed to E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Skylark series, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now, keep in mind that I was about nine when I first tried to tackle “Princess” and about 13 when I opened up the pages of Skylark of Space, so I wasn’t asking questions about the skin color or gender of the authors. It never even occurred to me. In fact, it never even occurred to me to raise those questions on September 8, 1966, when, at the tender age of 12, I watched the very first episode of the original Star Trek series The Naked Time.
I didn’t ask why Uhura was black, why Sulu was Asian, and why Spock was a pointy-eared, green-blooded alien from the planet Vulcan. I just accepted that this was all happening in the 23rd century and it was so much fun.
Of course, as I got older, various social themes did become recognizable in what I was consuming for entertainment. But at the end of the day, I still read and watched science fiction and fantasy because it was fun, not because I needed to be lectured to, or have my consciousness shaped into someone else’s vision of how to “change the culture for the better.”
When I was 14 years old and reading The Time Traders and Galactic Derelict, I didn’t realize that the author Andre Norton was really a woman named Alice Mary Norton. Later, in high school, when I was reading novels like Nova and Dhalgren, I didn’t know that author Samuel R. Delany was black. I read those books because they entertained and enthralled me, and yes, even educated me. I didn’t know that some authors, according to Ms. Bradford, must be embraced while others must be shunned.
I was being harsh again, wasn’t I?
Look, it’s not like she doesn’t have a point. It would probably be a good idea to peruse a wide variety of authors in search of perspectives we might not otherwise be aware of. It’s part of the reason why I’ve read authors such as Margaret Atwood, N.K. Jemisin (who blocked me on twitter, supposedly because I objected to her adding a transgender character to her novel, since said-character did nothing to advance the plot), Octavia E. Butler, and Annalee Newitz.
I don’t regret any of those decisions, especially because I acquired those books either through my local public library system (which is closed now, thank you very much COVID-19) or via free downloads from Tor.com. Certainly, attempting to broaden my horizons relative to the culture wars has made me more aware of particular issues, as well as particular authors and their works, than would otherwise come to me “organically.” That said, I do not consider any of those books among my favorites for a variety of reasons (click on the links I provided above to read my reviews on them).
So when Ms. Bradford
orders me recommends certain books and authors, I will take those names and novels under consideration. However, I don’t read to satisfy someone else’s priorities, but to satisfy my own. That’s not a bad thing. This is actually, absolutely true of Bradford, since she admits her reading choices were based on her own emotional requirements. That’s fine and dandy for her.
But I’m not her, nor do I agree with her attempt to change me (not me personally, but anyone who reads her commentary including me) into someone other than who I am. I’m okay with being me. Your mileage may vary.
Oh, that said, Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Gabriel García Márquez are all on her list, and I’ve read their works before (I love Le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven). The rest of the books/authors, well…I’ve never heard of them. Maybe when the libraries open up again, I’ll see if any of those “recommended” books are on their shelves.
On a final note, Ms. Bradford also said:
It doesn’t help that most high-profile venues that exist to alert readers to new books and their worthiness are skewed heavily toward privileged voices.
Since, according to Wikipedia (I know, I know), Ms. Bradford was “a non-fiction and managing editor with Fantasy Magazine from 2007 to 2009 and has edited fiction for Peridot Books” a “graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, an alumna of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and the Online Writing Workshop (formerly Del Rey)” and also “has been a juror for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award” as well as being “currently Vice-Chair of the Carl Brandon Society Steering Committee,” I don’t know if I’m anymore “privileged” than she is. It seems, at least officially, that she’s doing okay.