A Labor of Love

Yesterday, I had an interview for a volunteer editing position. I’d be working one or two hours a week helping sort the submissions to a literary ‘zine. I’m excited that I made it to the phone interview stage. I’d love to get experience actually publishing a journal or ‘zine, and this position would be a great way to start.

Going through an interview often makes me step back and reflect on my life’s journey. I haven’t built a single career in one field. I’ve worked several retail jobs, and I’ve been a project manager. I’ve taught at a university, and I worked as a summer laborer in the mining industry. I’ve also been a data entry clerk. That might be the job that prepared me most for a writing life since it made me a faster typist.

The through line in all of those fields has been my love of reading and my dream of writing. During the interview, I realized that my “colorful” work experience hasn’t really prepared me to do one thing well. Except write. Having worked a wide range of jobs and encountered people from so many economic backgrounds, I hope it’s made me more empathetic and well-rounded. Those are keys for a good writer.

During a discussion on a writers’ forum this week, I commented that I’ve noticed a lot of avid readers only read within their comfort zones. That is, the most frequently read books written by people who look familiar. (In other words, straight, white readers typically only read books by straight, white authors. Hence, the love of James Patterson.)

Other writers said that they’ve noticed a similar trend, and we all agreed that we need to do a better job reading more diverse works. Publishers won’t publish authors of color or bring out books in translation if there isn’t a demand for them.

This week, I’m challenging those of you who read my blog to step out of your comfort zone as readers. Go to your local library or bookstore and find a book that you usually wouldn’t read.

Maybe it’s by a writer whose background is entirely different from yours. Perhaps it’s a book originally written in another language. Maybe it’s a type of book (non-fiction, memoir, comic book, etc.) that you’d usually never try. Push yourself into new territory as a reader.

If you already read widely, then pat yourself on the back. But that’s not all I want you to do. Select one of your favorite books by an author of color and start talking about that book with everyone you know who reads. Try to drum up excitement for that book and help that writer widen their readership.

If you can afford to buy and give away a copy or two of that book, then you might consider donating to a Little Free Library near you. Or perhaps you’d like to track that book’s journey through BookCrossing. (If you do purchase a few copies to give away, please consider supporting your local independent bookstore. You can find one at IndieBound, and many of the big indies like Powell’s or The Strand will ship to you.)

Maybe you can donate a copy to your local library or school (if it’s age-appropriate). Or, perhaps you’d like to give it to a books-for-prisoners group.

This week brought disturbing news from Washington State. I’ve always been proud of the twelve years I lived in Seattle, and I feel that time reinforced my love of reading and writing. Seattle is a city with a vibrant literary community, and many great publishers call Washington State home. That’s why I was angry to learn that Washington State’s Department of Corrections is banning book donations from non-profits to prisoners.

I need to learn how my current state handles books for prisoners. These programs often report that the most requested items are dictionaries, GED & ESL materials, and genre fiction. Other popular requests are books on starting businesses or learning trades and hobbies. And I know that writing programs in prisons often have more interest than they can meet.

If you have other suggestions on how you can be a better literary citizen, then please post them below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

And if you’re taking up my challenge, let me know what you’re going to do. Then check back and report on the results.

P.S. I have lots of links this week. Please let me know if any don’t work.

(Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash)

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