Summer of Feminista: Latinas in Publishing

My name is Dior Vargas and I am an expert in publishing because I have been interning, volunteering, and freelancing in the industry for the past 4 years. I also have a master’s degree in publishing. I have noticed that there aren’t many minorities in publishing as employees in a publishing house nor as writers in the industry.

I am aware that there are some standout writers such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sapphire, Ntozake Shange, Esmeralda Santiago, Sandra Cisneros, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Junot Diaz, and others. In the past other authors included Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and Gloria Anzaldua. However, there aren’t enough writers currently working in the industry considering the amount of books being published every year.

Why are there not enough people of color in publishing? According to Michael Garry’s article written in 1988, there are few if any large publishing companies that are actively recruiting minorities. These conditions haven’t changed very much despite the number of years that have gone by since that article was written.

There are a lot of industries where the only way you get into it is through who you know. More so for publishing. A lot of the people who work in publishing have gone to prestigious schools and have made many connections through networking. This is usually not the case for minorities because most aren’t given the necessary and adequate preparation to gain admission to these programs.

In my experience, I’ve realized that unless you work in a publishing press that is focused on the writings of people of color, you will not find many books that are written by minorities. The only times when there were more women of color was when I interned for Meridians, an interdisciplinary journal about feminism, race and transnationalism, and for The Feminist Press. Even then, there weren’t that many. This is because these presses don’t have the resources that other larger publishing presses have. Publishing high profile people like George W. Bush, Ann Coulter, and others brings money but these are the last people that liberal independent presses would publish.

Publishing is an industry where choosing which book to publish can be very risky. There is a lot of money that a publishing house can lose if the book doesn’t sell. Therefore, the publisher will only look for books that will sell. There are a plethora of books about Latinos and African Americans but most that are about subjects that further the stereotype of these cultures. Most writers are pigeon holed into writing books that stay within that subject and therefore will sell.

Based on the direction that publishing is going - digital, this excludes and narrows the opportunities that minorities have to find a place in publishing - even as consumers. Many don’t have the education or the skills to work in this new section of publishing. In addition, many minority consumers don’t have the resources to buy eBooks or eReaders.

Thankfully with the start of self-publishing, many individuals have the opportunity to publish works that otherwise never would have been read by others. Blogging is another venue where people can discuss topics and create a discussion about any topic. Yet, self publishing deviates from the norm and many people don’t view self publishing as legitimate as they would if the book was published by a well known publisher. In addition, unless it’s a blog that is well known, blog posts aren’t as respected either.

There have been instances where the media has noticed this disparity. One example is an article by GalleyCat where they noticed that in Publisher’s Weekly’s Notables of 2010 in book publishing, there were no women and very few people of color.

Recently an article was published by the Associated Press about how students are preparing to get a job in publishing. I found it very interesting that they said the students are overwhelmingly female. Yet the students they featured were all Caucasian.

This is ironic but I believe that in the past, there were more opportunities for people of color in certain parts of publishing. During the second wave of feminism, women of color were a lot more present in publishing and they started collectives and publishing presses that were rooted in consciousness raising and were extremely grassroots.

The Feminist Press was established in 1970 by Florence Howe because she believed there was a need for feminist books in high school and college classrooms. When Howe started the press, she thought it was going to be a temporary project because she assumed that other publishers would realize the importance of their work. It is evident that publishers still have not caught on to the notion that there are works that are still not being given the credence they deserve. It is therefore the responsibility of the press to continue their work of making sure all voices are heard. A similar organization, Kitchen Table Press, was established ten years later by Barbara Smith among Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, and others. They shared the same sentiment that there was a great need for the voices of women of color to be heard and respected. Even though the Kitchen Table Press is no longer in existence there are other similar presses such as The Feminist Press, Seal Press, Red Bone Press, and others.

I don’t believe there are enough people of color concerned with publishing and the lack of people of color being represented in comparison to those in the past. I think there needs to be a return to the grassroots movements of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Perhaps there are not a lot of people of color interested in the industry. Yet their circumstances don’t make the process any easier.

As far as publishing goes, I don’t think there is a single stand out Latina public intellectual. I think there should be a group of Latina public intellectuals in publishing. More so for book publishing since there are more opportunities for them in interdisciplinary journals like WSQ and Meridians, and magazines like Latina Magazine, Urban Latino, Essence, VIBE, and Ebony. If there could be a Latina public professional in publishing, I think that this Latina should use her influence for social justice rather than just educating people about our culture. Using that power to influence change in the lives of Latinas is of the utmost importance. There are some Latinas that are making strides such as Galina Espinoza, the co-president and editorial director at Latina Media Ventures. Last year she teamed up with Planned Parenthood Federation of America to discuss Latinas and their sexual health. Sandra Guzman is another Latina who is raising awareness with her book, The New Latina’s Bible [P | I]. The book inspires Latinas and gives them greater self esteem. This is extremely important since statistically, Latinas attempt suicide at a higher rate than other races.

In the future, I could embrace the role of a public intellectual. It would be my goal to start a press that is dedicated to publishing works about women of color, feminism, GLBTQ issues, and social justice. I had the privilege of getting a master’s degree in the industry which many told me was not necessary. However, I felt that it would give me an edge and as a woman of color I believe it is necessary in order to get into the industry.

Publishing is important to our society because it is the means to give visibility to those who have something important to say. Who better than Latinas?

For further articles pertaining to this topic:

Summer of Feminista 2011 is a project where Latinas are sharing their thoughts on Latinas as Public Intellectuals. Liberal. Conservative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission.