By David Corbett
Source: Writer’s Digest
In a genre that has historically lacked diversity, six writers of color discuss overcoming the challenge of breaking in and the current climate for crime, mystery and thriller fiction.
“It can be lonely. … And there have been times when I’ve retreated to my hotel room, emotionally exhausted from being visibly invisible all day.”
That’s a line from Rachel Howzell Hall’s 2015 essay, “Colored and Invisible”—the inspiration for this article. In the piece, Hall discusses her experience being one of only a few black writers at annual mystery conferences.
An assortment of other essays provide powerful insight: Sarah Weinman’s “The Case of the Disappearing Black Detective” (The New Republic), which addresses the frequent appearance and all-too-predictable disappearance of black heroes and writers in the crime/mystery/thriller genre; Aya de Leon’s “The Black Detective in the White Mind” (The Armchair Detective); and Frederick Chan’s “Charlie Chan, a Hero of Sorts” (California Literary Review). These pieces remind one that racial and ethnic misunderstanding—not to mention indifference and outright hostility—remain all too common in the literary world. I reached out to six acclaimed writers I know and admire in the genre—Danny Gardner, Kellye Garrett, Gar Anthony Haywood, Naomi Hirahara, Gary Phillips and Rachel Howzell Hall herself—for a roundtable discussion on their impressions on where we’ve been, where we are and where we might be headed.
Is it really true that the crime/mystery/thriller genre is overwhelmingly white, or is it rather that writers of color generally turn to outlets that have a more clearly receptive audience?
HALL: Alas, it’s true—I’ve seen it firsthand (unlike the Yeti, Santa Claus and Indiana). I’ve observed it at Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Writers Police Academy—during board meetings, panels, readings, luncheons. And because of that, I think some writers move into “safer” spaces, the same way we sat with each other in the college dining hall. Some will say, “Screw it,” and leave the field. But there are those of us who still harbor a twisted desire to stake our claim in a genre that often capitalizes on our neighborhoods.
HAYWOOD: It’s not an “audience” problem. Too many editors and publishers have a misguided perception that the market will only bear a small number of books featuring non-white characters—a theory that’s never been adequately tested, let alone proven.