It’s no secret that the literary canon has long been primarily dominated by white male voices. It’s why, whenever a non-white, non-cis male author gets praise and recognition, it feels like such a monumental accomplishment. Seeing women, namely women of color, achieve a large amount of success in any competitive field can be exhilarating, but in the world of literature where white men have been granted the pedestal to tell their own and often related narratives, WOC literature is truly a sight to be seen. It’s also why it is almost as monumentally disappointing whenever an author of color receives the opposite of praise; when the criticism granted to them is laced with erasure or racist undermining that so many of us grew up with.
Lucky for us, not every author of color is going to lay there and take the insults.
Over the weekend, Afro-Latina YA novelist Ibi Zoboi shut down a racist review that attacked her newest book.
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So pretty! Check out this giveaway from @cantstop.wontstop.reading # Repost from @cantstop.wontstop.reading “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they want to do is clean it up .” – Ibi Zoboi, Pride • Do you like retellings?? I find that a well done retelling is wonderful, and I can’t wait to read Pride, a modern, Brooklyn based YA Pride & Prejudice retelling. • I have partnered with @epicreads to giveaway one copy of the book! 💙GIVEAWAY💙 Enter to win a copy of Pride – follow me, @ibizoboi @epicreads and @storygramtours . – tag a friend you think will be interested For EXTRA entry – visit @berrybookpages tomorow and repeat these steps RULES – Giveaway will end September 17th at midnight EST – US only – not affiliated with Instagram -must be 18 or have parents permission -must be a public account so I can verify entries 💙Summary💙 Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable. When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding. But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all. … … #pridebooktour #pride #retelling #prideandprejudice #epicreads #yacontemporary #storygramtours #bookstagram #book #bookstagrammer #booknerd #bookphotography #photooftheday #flowers #classics #booksbooksbooks #reader #PRIDEremix
Ibi Zoboi is a Port-au-Prince, Haitian writer and Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In recent years her writing has been published in The New York Times Book Review and she has published a few of her own books including American Street and her most recent book Pride, which came out this month, became a National Book Award finalist. The book, a modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from an Afro-Latina’s perspective, currently holds a 3.81-star review on Goodreads. Like any book being reviewed online, it had fantastic and both not so great reviews. Still, none were quite so harsh and tone-deaf as one review that came straight out of a write-up by Wall Street Journal’s Meghan Cox Gurdon.
In one of the most egregious sections of the review, Cox Gurdon wrote: “Unlike Austen, Ms. Zoboi doesn’t write here with literary formality or what has been called classic narrative tact. For her characters, a bad attitude is ‘stank,’ a rich family is ‘bougie as hell,’ and an instant attraction is ‘you-look-so-damn-fine-that-my-eyes-are-eating-your-face-thing.’ Her heavy use of slang will undoubtedly amuse and validate those readers ages 13-17 who use it themselves, but it may otherwise limit the book’s appeal.”
It didn’t take long for Zoboi to take to Twitter and call out the racism and classism that appeared so overtly in Cox Gurdon’s review.
This is an insulting review from a major publication (@WSJ) by a very problematic reviewer, Meghan Cox Gurdon. So I’d like to review her review as an example of the “classical narrative tact” she was looking for in my book. pic.twitter.com/XjQFjsafR9
— Ibi Zoboi (@ibizoboi) September 22, 2018
Taking her time to”review [Cox Gurdon’s] review as an example of the ‘classical narrative tact’ she was looking for in my book,” Zoboi called out all of the inherent racism and classism that exists Cox Gurdon’s world of “literary formality” and “classic narrative tact.” In a series of tweets, Zoboi carefully picked apart and highlighted the ways in which the review works to disregard crucial aspects of Zoboi’s writing and the narrative of her story.
Here’s just a few of Zoboi’s well-said points:
- “The reviewer has intentionally erased & undermined the descriptor ‘Afro-Latin’ despite it being on the flap copy & despite its pervasive use in the media, including @WSJ.”
- “She uses of the word “animus” to describe the young character’s concerns for her changing community. This reveals the reviewer’s marrow-deep bigotry & a limited understanding of the valid anger & frustrations of marginalized children.”
- “She fails to elaborate on her definition of “literary formality” nor does she indicate exactly who has described a novel as ever having “classical narrative tact”. She may have been expecting the archaic language in Regency-era novels, or the Queen’s English itself.”
Beyond that, Zoboi goes on to call out the reviewer for using quotes that “falsely highlight the novel’s presumed intellectual inferiority.” Zoboi goes on to say that the reviewer has “limited understanding of metaphor, wordplay, & the overall verbal ingenuity that Black children bring to the English language.”
In an age when communities of color are severely underrepresented in media, with Latinx people currently making up 17.8 percent of the U.S.’ general population but only 3.1 percent of speaking roles in television or movies, this kind of standing up for ourselves is supremely needed. Although diversity movements in publishing have been springing up lately, such as Latinx in Publishing, We Need Diverse Books, and the hashtag #OwnVoices, we still have a long way to go in terms of fair representation — and this incident between Zoboi and The Wall Street Journal review is a clear example.
As for her part, Zoboi ends her Twitter call-out by saying that she “absolutely will not be commenting on all reviews” but points to the reviewer’s “heavy use of delusional intellectual superiority” and the way it hurts “our children, many of whom are forced to bend & minimize their inherent genius to fit your idea of intelligence.”
In response to Zoboi’s tweets, her fans tweeted out their support.
Thread. This is why all publications need reviewers who have read widely, reviewers from a diversity of backgrounds, and who are at least able to recognize the ways in which their lack of lived experience disqualifies their analysis. Oh — and fact-checking is a thing, @WSJ. https://t.co/GOjFWJGbxE
— N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin) September 23, 2018
Many emphasized that the poor review made them want to read the book even more.
Others were quick to point out their own frustrations with Cox Gurdon’s review
That paragraph about slang. Just… Wow…
— asad. (@asadzaidi93) September 23, 2018
Like does Cox Gurdon really believe Jane Austen’s books were not completely piled high with slang? Or does she think that’s just a POC thing?
Here’s hoping more publisher’s continue to embrace WOC perspectives and their words so readers and reviewers like Cox Gurdon can expand their “classical narrative tact” whatever that is.