Post Reports

‘Publishing is still a business that is owned by white men’: Three women on race and genre

Martine Powers talks with N.K. Jemisin, Jasmine Guillory and Lauren Wilkinson about challenging narrow perceptions of race in literary genres. And Marian Liu on the segregation of American music awards.
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Post Reports is the daily podcast from The Washington Post. Unparalleled reporting. Expert insight. Clear analysis. Everything you’ve come to expect from the newsroom of The Post -- for your ears.

In this episode

The book publishing industry still has a long way to go
“Publishing is still a business that is owned by white men,” romance writer Jasmine Guillory says. “And you know the people at the top are all white men.” She’s not alone in her sentiment. Lauren Wilkinson debuted her novel “American Spy” with a black woman as the protagonist. Wilkinson grew up reading John le Carré and James Bond novels. She says she always noticed a similarity between all of the spy novels she’d read as a kid.

“They looked very very white and male,” Wilkinson says. So she decided to do something about it by writing Marie Mitchell as the main character of “American Spy.”

“I mean, for me this is a spy book, but it’s secretly just an opportunity to talk about a black woman’s feelings for 300 pages,” Wilkinson says.

Science fiction also faces the problem of inequality in the publishing industry. That’s why N.K. Jemisin chose to put black experiences of oppression in a distant, imagined future. She says, “In a lot of science-fiction stories, you know, the way that they choose to engage with [oppression] is by having aliens be oppressed.” Instead, Jemisin chooses to show how the black experience fares in the future with the “Broken Earth” series.

These women tell Powers about why the industry remains so homogenous and what challenges remain.

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Shattering records, but not stereotypes
The organizers of this year’s MTV Video Music Awards have faced backlash from fans of boy band BTS, after they created a new category for “Best K-Pop” and segregated the group from main award nominations despite their international success. 

BTS is the first group since the Beatles to reach three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 chart in less than a year and holds the record for the fastest YouTube video to hit 100 million views. But they’re not the first to have their music relegated to a new category.

“You’re basically disenfranchising this group, saying their music is not as good,” says reporter Marian Liu of the decision to segregate them into a new category. “It’s not pop, it’s not mainstream. It’s separate.”

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About Post Reports

Post Reports is the daily podcast from The Washington Post. Unparalleled reporting. Expert insight. Clear analysis. Everything you’ve come to expect from the newsroom of The Post -- for your ears.