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The Physics of Writing in Color

Girls Around the World

The Physics of Writing in Color

“The Physics of Writing in Color”

By Sang Kromah

Who knew that there was physics involved in writing fantasy?

If you’re puzzled right now, just know you aren’t alone.

If you were under the impression that the publishing industry was free from bias and prejudices, then you were like me. I was naïve enough to believe that your work and talent speaks for itself, so writing a good book and creating a solid marketing plan was all it took to be a successful author. Needless to say, I received my wakeup call a week after my book was published.

After getting some positive reviews on my most recent novel, Djinn and it being a Number One New Release on Amazon, I was on a high, believing I had finally found my place in the world. After years of trying to find my niche, I had written a story that was the embodiment of my heritage and childhood. It was me in print.

You see, as a writer of color, who’s also a woman, a first-generation American, and with an African name that makes the ignorant giggle when made to pronounce, you’re automatically placed in a category of “otherness,” particularly when you create characters whose “otherness” mirrors your own and strays from the “typicals” we normally see in literature and popular culture. Even if your book is set in an American town at an American school, that “otherness” is always mentioned and somehow what you are meant to be defined as.

I grew up in the nineties, in a town where there weren’t many black people, and more to the point, I could count the number of Africans in said town on one hand. Attempting to purchase hair products for a texture like mine meant going two or three towns over because there was nothing for me there. Years later, the local Walmart created an “Ethnic Hair Care” section, attempting to appease black people. I have loathed that minuscule section for years and so when my recently published YA-Fantasy novel, Djinn was categorized in a section called “Country & Ethnic,” I cringed, feeling that otherness once again.

The book takes place in Sykesville, Maryland, the town I grew up in, at Liberty High School, the high school I attended. Even though the story is based on lore from my parent’s native country (Liberia) and the Arabian stories of the jinn (genies), it takes place in America. The main characters’ surnames aren’t Williams and Johnson, but if we want to get technical, those names aren’t native to this land either.

A few weeks ago, while promoting Djinn, a reader contacted me after reading positive reviews to say that I should have written about something else. She concluded that my book would fail because she’d recently heard of another YA-Fantasy book with African origins that was currently successful.

I was sangry! And yes, I just made up that word, because I was sad and angry simultaneously, my name is included, and no other word in the English language I can think of at this moment in time can describe exactly what I felt that day.

Immediately, my mouth opened, and I almost told her where to go, but I reigned it in and asked her a few questions.

“Have you read more than one vampire novel?” I asked.

“Yes!” she answered. “I read the Twilight, Night World, and the Vampire Diaries books.”

“What about books on magic? Have you read many?” I asked.

“Many! I’ve read everything from Harry Potter to Septimus Heap.”

By this time, I’m beyond sangry, but trying not to bring out 14-year-old Sang that lost it on the boy who asked if Sunday dinners at my house consisted of fried chicken and watermelon. I calmly asked, “why is it that when it comes to stories about or by people of color, there can only be one? You listed numerous books of the same genre with very different stories to tell, so do you mean to tell me that all African or black stories are the same?”

I know that is not the case, but the fact that this is actually a justified line of thinking by some readers, some publishers, and some editors is disheartening. It probably hurt me more than it should have, and she was obviously uncomfortable with what I had to say to her because she blocked me soon after.

I think it hurt so much because in every space I occupy, I’m classified as “other.” Books have always been my escape from those rigid boxes we’re often forced into because my mind paints characters however it sees fit, and this line of thinking directed to me made it clear that once again, the aforementioned “otherness” was what classified me and not my talent or who I really am.

She didn’t see me as just a writer. To her, I was a diversity candidate, who was published to fill a quota that had already been filled. In her mind, it was improbable that my book was simply a damn good book. Through her dingy-colored glasses, I’m another African writer and two of those can’t occupy the same space at the same time. That would defy the laws of physics to those who often like to deny their privilege when it is recognized and acknowledged by others.

Where and when does it end? Even identical twins have stories that differ from the other twin, so why is it so hard to believe that there is more than one black/African experience?

I’m a firm believer in the fact that all voices are meant to be heard. It is also important to remember that the storyteller is just as important as the story that is being told. Once that is recognized the narrative changes. The world changes. So while we’re hashtagging #timesup, we must ensure that if it isn’t intersectional, it isn’t feminism.

 

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Christina Bader

    April 21, 2018 at 12:36 am

    Sang,

    Wow, I honestly never associated the color of your skin or your name with your book other than to think “ what a beautiful woman” and I can truly say that has NEVER been a factor in whether I read a book or not!
    I am not perfect by any means and have had my “ moments”, something I’m aware of and actively working to change, but to try to pigeon hole someone into a box because of their color is unbelievable, and I ashamed to be the same color and sex as that woman. We should be holding each other up for our accomplishments, not tearing each other down.
    I applaud you for your restraint and your strength of character and perseverance!
    I looking forward to reading any and all of your future books, regardless of the books location, or character names 😁!

    • sangkromah

      April 26, 2018 at 3:13 am

      Hi Christina,

      Thank you so much! None of us are perfect, but acknowledging that fact and being open to change is a step in the right direction.

      <3

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