Tales from the Twitter Bunker
by Donna Johns
Call me by my name: librarytwitt. I’ve been a user of this microblog, 140-word limit, for about 15 years. I follow 704 accounts, and I’m followed by 422. Over that 15 years, I’ve tweeted around 2500 times, not counting private messages or retweets. I check Twitter a few times a day, scroll through the “recents” for a few minutes, hop off. Who do I follow? Librarians, authors, a few celebrities, some news services (Reuters, AP, Daily Mail), a few friends, teachers, actors. No politicians.
Some call social media a time suck, and I guess it could be. Fortunately, I’m not compulsive. If I’m super busy, I may miss a few days. But when I have idle time, it fills me in on news that may take weeks to slog its way onto the pages of the Boston Globe or the New York Times. Such was the case these past few weeks.
Identity politics has made its way into the publishing/writing community with a vengeance. First came the total meltdown of the Romance Writers of America. The RWA has an operating budget of over $1 million, the largest of any professional genre writers’ organization. As of 2007, the organization had over 9,000 members and over 150 local chapters. The paid and unpaid administrators of the RWA began to be held accountable for the exclusion of people of color in their annual awards. As year after year passed with no recognition, groups of writers became more organized and vocal. At last year’s awards, the RITA judges were loudly booed at the annual conference. Then one of the leaders of the resistance was officially sanctioned in a backdoor, apparently illegal, ethics subcommittee meeting. The reason? She publicly called another member’s new novel “f..king racist trash.”
Tempest in a teapot? That’s what I initially thought, but within two weeks, almost half of the RWA members had cancelled memberships, the entire executive board and two(!) presidents resigned. Almost leaderless. The awards were cancelled, the annual conference is in danger of being cancelled, and local chapters are disbanding. Battle lines are drawn, and neither side seems interested in talking to the other. Sound familiar?
Then focus shifted to a book recently released and already chosen as an Oprah book. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a story of a mother and son escaping from a drug cartel in Acapulco and attempting to enter the United States after the murder of their family. Latinx authors began to question how a white woman could possibly reflect this experience. Tempest in a teapot? Nope. As more people read it, excerpts began appearing on Twitter. Then parodies. A wave of disdain for a book which apparently does not reflect the experiences of Latinx women.
Then came the launch party. A tony affair with lobster and champagne. Lovely purple floral arrangements in containers wrapped in barbed wire. Completely tone deaf, but you could blame the publishing house’s event planner for that one. If only the author hadn’t appeared and proudly displayed her very expensive manicure. It featured the same barbed wire motif.
Is it a crime to be tone deaf and insensitive? One thing is clear. The publishing world is taking sides. Authors are demanding that the gatekeepers of the industry open those gates to people with different life experiences, different skin color, different sexual orientation. The next battleground of identity politics.
I read it on Twitter, raw and uncensored.
Donna is also a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, and sometime director of community theater. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.