Using Claire Vaye Watkins’s excellent essay “On Pandering” as a jumping-off point, the author of A Brief History of Seven Killings sharply criticized literary magazines and publishers for pushing writers of color to adopt uniform voices and themes.
While [Watkins] recognizes how much she was pandering to the white man, we writers of color spend way too much of our lives pandering to the white woman. I’ve mentioned this before, how there is such a thing as “the critically acclaimed story.” You see it occasionally in certain highbrow magazines and journals. Astringent, observed, clipped, wallowing in its own middle-style prose and private ennui, porn for certain publications. And I knew from early on how to write the kind of story that would get published. Honestly, had I followed that formula (or style?) if I pandered to a cultural tone set by white women, particular older white female critics, I would have had 10 stories published by now. ... The last contest I judged, the initial favourite was yet again, “bored suburban white woman in the middle of ennui, experiences keenly observed epiphany.” And though we’ll never admit it, every writer of color knows that they stand a higher chance of getting published if they write this kind of story. We just do. Anyway, still reading.
Last Friday, James slightly expanded on his point, saying, “Everyone knows what a New Yorker story will look like. I could have been published 10 times over—I knew that there was a certain kind of prose I could have written; intense scenes that hinted, rather than explored.” James is on something of a roll right now—his conversation with Jeanette Winterson is also a must-read.