the set-up: who's running the asylum?
Last week, Mystery Writers of America announced their grand marshal choices for the prestigious Edgar Awards, awarded annually for the best mystery books published in that year. The grand master award is given to a person to honor their contributions to the genre over the length of their career. The 2018 choice of recipients kicked off a heated debate between the old and new guardians of the genre.
At issue is the lack of diversity and representation of minority voices in publishing. News flash: publishing is way homogenous. The vast majority of books published in the U.S. reflect the white middle-class experience. Yes, there’s always been a slice of pie reserved for minority voices, and there seems to be a growing interest in diverse voices. It seems that publishing is making an attempt to reflect a culture that includes marginalized voices – but at a glacier pace, as debated in last week’s roundtable discussion on CrimeReads.
MWA announced that Linda Fairstein would be one of two such honorees for 2018. When the news hit, mystery writer of four books and screenwriter for the television show Empire, Attica Locke, reacted and tweeted the following:
“@EdgarAwards As a member and 2018 Edgar winner, I am begging you to reconsider having Linda Fairstein serve as a Grand Master in next year’s awards ceremony. She is almost singlehandedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five.”
Fairstein defended herself in a series of tweets and many in the community joined in. Not surprisingly, the majority opinion supported reconsideration of the award. For the next twenty-four hours the community of mystery writers engaged in a very heated debate. The next day at noon the MWA rescinded the award and apologized to the community stating that they had been unaware of Fairstein’s history, a statement that many found hard to fathom. However, while it’s hard to buy that the MWA was unaware of Fairstein’s history, it should be noted that they chose to respond to their community’s outrage.
The New York Times ran an article in which they quoted Andrew Gross -- published since 1990 – and debut novelist, Kellye Garrett. The choice of sources in this situation highlights the current state of publishing.
Andrew Gross said this in support of the MWA’s choice of Fairstein, “For a person who has devoted her career to real-world situations that have advanced women’s rights to be attacked and demonized by people whose toughest real-world decisions are how to define a gerund or what book to review is a sign that the inmates are truly running the asylum.”
Kelly Garrett had a different take on the issue. “It’s not a secret, her (Fairstein’s) connection to the Central Park Five,” she said. Adding, “[MWA has] work to do, especially when it comes to inclusivity and embracing writers from marginalized communities.”
These reactions draw a clear picture of the issues facing the publishing community as a whole. The old guard defends the choice and even criticizes opposition, while the new guard speaks up for marginalized voices.
Perhaps the silver lining in the whole debacle was the shore-to-shore coverage in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, and many other outlets. The fight for inclusivity in publishing might be lagging behind the times, but when there are huge missteps, they will be noticed and apparently they will be examined in the limelight of media coverage. Examination that perhaps the publishing industry should prepare for.
Gale Massey lives in St. Petersburg, FL. Her stories have appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Walking the Edge, Sabal, Seven Hills Press, and other journals. She has been the recipient of scholarships and fellowships at The Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Writers in Paradise, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Girl From Blind River is her debut novel.
Read the entire Set-Up series here.