Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Tom Fairley Award
Editors Canada is accepting nominations for the Tom Fairley Award for Editorial Excellence. It “recognizes an exceptional editor who played an important role on a project published in 2020” and is worth $2,000. Anyone involved in a work can submit a nomination – publisher, editor, author or designer – even oneself. Deadline for nominations: January 15, 2021. Download the nomination form from www.editors.ca.
Jim asked us to name a dictionary that doesn’t exist but should. He gave the example of Alberto Manguel’s Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Jim’s suggestion: an authoritative and up-to-date dictionary that clearly discriminates synonyms and near-synonyms: a differentiating dictionary.
Diversity and Inclusion
We had a general discussion of some of the issues, shared some of the resources available, and discussed what we can do to promote diversity and inclusion in our work and – in Adrienne Montgomery’s words – to support our colleagues from diverse backgrounds.
In the summer of 2020, there was a spate of killings of Black and Indigenous people in the United States and Canada, instances of police brutality and protests against police violence around the world, and a raised awareness of systemic racism in many of our institutions. It seemed important to talk about how editors are affected and how (much) this awareness is reflected in what we edit and perhaps also in our workplaces or those of our clients.
At the time Stephanie was preparing for this meeting, the association’s newsletter arrived, and it announced the new adviser on equity, diversity and inclusion. Her name is Adebe DeRango-Adem. She’s a member of Toronto Branch and an editor and published author who brings diverse experience into publishing, cultural programming, and anti-racism and human rights/equity education. Adebe kindly sent me an extensive list of inclusivity-related documents and links that Editors Canada had assembled. It will be posted on Editors Canada soon and be available to all.
Q. Have you had the experience of editing a piece of writing by someone from another culture, background, sexual orientation, or ability? If so, what was your response, and how did you work through the experience?
A. Stephanie copy edited a book a few years ago called Queering Urban Justice: Queer of Colour Formations in Toronto (Jin Haritaworn, Ghaida Moussa, and Syrus Marcus Ware, eds., with Río Rodríguez, University of Toronto Press, 2018). She wondered at the time why the copy editing was being given to a non–queer of colour person. Most chapters used “Black” but one used “black.” She asked the editors about the inconsistency, and they decided to retain both capitalizations.
Q. How does one develop sensitivity to material that describes an unfamiliar context? When should we suggest that material be looked at by a sensitivity reader?
A. An editor needs to bring sensitivity to the material they’re editing – in all areas. We’re used to recognizing biased language and making it bias-free. We need to do the same thing with material describing groups of people.
A skill one encounters is sensitivity reader, a person who is hired to help ensure that a manuscript is authentic and to make recommendations about potential issues with cultural veracity and tone (paraphrased from Tajja Isen, “How Not to Write a Book about a Minority Experience,” The Walrus, July/August 2020). That article examines an example of a novel that didn’t use a sensitivity reader and should have (American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins), and it argues that if the workforce in the publishing industry were more diverse, the function of a sensitivity reader would be a regular part of the publishing process.
Q. To what extent do we bring our own implicit biases to our editorial work, and what can we do to break them down?
A. To a large extent, probably. Without even realizing it. First step: develop awareness. Keep on top of current events, learn what’s driving them. Read about the experiences of people from other cultures, backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc. To be a good editor, we have to develop open minds, intellectual curiosity; know what the issues are and where to go to check facts or anything else we think we should verify. Just like editing anything, we need to let the writer’s voice come through but steer it when it needs to be steered. As with other questionable issues, query the author.
Q. Did anyone read something that promoted understanding of the issues or helped you develop a new awareness? Anything you disagreed with?
A. One positive article is “Give Black Employees the Freedom to be Black” (Dori Tunstall, Globe and Mail, August 14, 2020; unfortunately, seems no longer available online). She is the dean of the Faculty of Design at OCAD University in Toronto, and she describes how the university is fostering a safe, diverse environment by hiring Black employees at every level, creating a critical mass that encourages them to be their Black selves.
Q: What is the current state of diversity in Canadian fiction?
A. See, under “Other Resources” below, the two surveys, also “Lack of Ethnic Diversity in Canadian Publishing” (Sarah McNeil, 2017), which includes examples of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) writers feeling left out of a white-dominated industry – e.g., in nominations for the Giller Prize.
Is it any more diverse three years later? The 2020 Giller Prize winner comes from a Thai background, but how representative is this? Looking back at the finalists since 1994, at least 11 seem to come from diverse backgrounds. Out of 27 winners, that’s 41 percent, so perhaps reasonably reflective of Canadian society.
Q. What can we as editors do to ensure that the material we edit is respectful, inclusive, and sensitive to everyone and/or a readership from diverse backgrounds? How can we support our colleagues from diverse backgrounds?
A. Editors can have a powerful impact on the written word, and we have a responsibility to ensure that we are as intellectually curious about diversity and inclusivity as we are about the other topics we encounter in our work. Material needs to be factually correct, needs to be respectful, needs to speak to an entire audience.
From Susannah Noel, “5 Steps Freelance Book Editors Can Take to Combat Racism” (blog post, Editorial Arts Academy website, June 2020) – Editors are human, so we must participate. Editors also have a responsibility because we are uniquely suited to recognize the influence words have on readers, populations, and societies. Her five steps:
- Read actively – particularly on topics we might feel uncomfortable reading
- Edit better – be attuned to words and any inherent biases
- Seek out diversity where we live; expand our horizons
- Talk about money – transparency about what a BIPOC editor makes vs. a white editor
- Volunteer for BIPOC-run organizations – or at least support them
Association of Canadian Publishers, “2018 Canadian Book Publishing Diversity Baseline Survey: Summary Report” – respondents 82% white, 74% female, 72% heterosexual
BookNet Canada, “Demand for Diversity: A Survey of Canadian Readers,” 2019 – average reader female, 29 years old, 4-year degree, earns $37,500, lives in Ontario
BookNet Canada, Further Reading: Demand for Diversity (May 2019) – collection of diversity-related content from the Canadian book publishing industry, including videos
Tajja Isen, “How Not to Write a Book about a Minority Experience” (The Walrus, July/August 2020)
Pacinthe Mattar, “Objectivity Is a Privilege Afforded to White Journalists” (The Walrus, Nov/Dec 2020); in print, “Canadian Media’s Racism Problem.”
Sarah McNeil, “Lack of Ethnic Diversity in Canadian Publishing” (prepared for a course at Simon Fraser University, Fall 2017)
Indigenous Editors Association: https://www.indigenouseditorsassociation.ca/about-us/
Gregory Younging, Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (Brush Education Inc.)
Don’t overlook “mainstream” style guides like Editing Canadian English, 3rd ed. (from Editors Canada) and the Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., which have a chapter/section on inclusivity/bias-free language
Book Publishing Freelancers from Diverse Communities Database
Firefly Creative Writing – list of sensitivity readers
Editors of Color (US) – search and/or submit your name to their database