One of my favourite days at IWR is always the last one. In many ways, it’s a sad day, since I’m about to leave an experience that was full of learning, new friends, adventures, and more. But, it’s also an important day, because the participants get to attend a Q&A with all of the authors, and the conversations had up on that stage have never failed to transform the ways I view my own writing and reading habits.
In 2019, author Priya Basil said of her own reading habits: “I made a decision last year to read only women and in-translation. I think reading in translation opens up literature in a wonderful way.”
That quote really resonated with me, and made me ponder my own reading habits. I work as the Manager Editor of a literary magazine and a Publishing Assistant at a local press, so I am lucky enough to spend hours reading submitted manuscripts, pieces I’m editing, and books for review throughout each month. However, sometimes that leaves me drained when it comes to my own reading, outside of work. I went into 2020 wanting to be more intentional about my reading, including carving time into my evening before going to bed to dedicate to reading a physical book, rather than news stories on my phone or laptop. I also remembered back to Priya’s quote, and decided that for 2020 I would only read books from diverse and/or under-represented voices. This includes BIPOC authors, women, LGBTQIA2S+ folks, and work in-translation.
When Covid-19 hit, a friend reached out to me to help re-start a book club she had been part of, and I agreed, as long as the other members were open to making our reading choices in-line with my 2020 reading goals. And, happily, they were. Thus far we’ve read Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga, Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier, and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Reading diversely has helped me become a better editor, in thinking about the ways that my work can help platform interesting, new voices.
Reading diversely has also helped me become a better ally in my work to become anti-racist. We’re witnessing a historic moment in North America amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, and we are so blessed to have access to many wonderful books that can help us look at our own place amidst systemic structures. Some of the works I’ve turned to in doing this learning (and unlearning) are: How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
In thinking about the importance of celebrating diverse voices, we at IWR want to introduce a new social initiative this month: Spotlight September. We’ll be drawing attention to the books we’re reading and excited about right now, including those by past faculty members. Follow along on our blog and social media pages as we call out the work we think you should be adding to your reading lists, and feel free to suggest even more to us in the comment section!