April 1, 2016

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Listening to Other Voices

Guest Blogger:  Ellen Meeropol

We read for so many reasons – to be entertained, to armchair-travel, to be goosed into other ways of thinking, to learn, to experience lives very different from our own. To expand our world.

We choose our books in many ways too. We browse bookstore and library shelves. We read reviews in print or online. We ask our friends what they’ve read and loved recently. We discover new authors at readings and book festivals.

Depending on who we are, and where we live, it’s easy to become stuck in a rut about book choices. We may find ourselves limited to books appearing on bestseller lists or featured on the New Fiction shelf in the library, books with reviews and ads in the Sunday Times. We might find ourselves reading mostly white authors, or mostly famous male authors, or mostly U.S. authors, or mostly books published by the big corporate presses. Some of these books are amazing, not to be missed. But what else might we be missing?

The playing field in publishing is anything but level. Authors of color, or minority ethnicity or sexual orientation, disability or age, or any “outsider” identity are more likely to be published by an independent press, less likely to have strong national distribution and marketing budgets to bring their books to our attention. Does it matter?

I think it does. Voices that tell stories out of the mainstream – of racial hatred and violence, of Islamaphobia, of bashing immigrants and shaming the poor – these voices are often marginalized. We may have to look harder to find their books. But to expand our world, it’s worth it and it matters a lot.

—Ellen Meeropol is the author of two novels, On Hurricane Island and House Arrest, both published by Red Hen Press. A former nurse practitioner, a part-time bookseller, and literary late bloomer, Ellen is fascinated by characters balanced on the fault lines between political turmoil and human connection.

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