On a recent Good Morning America interview with author Taylor Jenkins Reid, Michael Strahan asked the following:
“You have faced some criticism for writing main characters like Carrie, who is Latina. And you’ve said before that you’ve felt conflicted about creating characters with a background that is different from yours. What made you decide to write Carrie this way?”
To which Reid replied:
“I’m trying to do the right thing that feels inclusive, and this may not be the right thing and I’m open to hearing that. The number one most important thing is that women of color be given the opportunity and the resources to tell their own stories and no story that I could tell could ever or should ever replace that. That is the most important thing.”
They are referring to Reid’s recently released book, Carrie Soto is Back, a novel that follows a 37-year-old former tennis champion who comes out of retirement for one final season. The previous criticism that Strahan mentions dates back to 2017, when Reid addressed her portrayal of people of color as a white woman after the publication of Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
There is a clear problem here, one that even the author is aware of. Is it ethical for a white author to write (and profit from) a Latina main character? Fellow contributor Tayler examines this issue from multiple angles in her piece Can a White Author Tell My Story? (It would be a great idea to go read that, and then come back.)
Rather than be guided by what feels right to us when it comes to inclusivity, actively listening to and learning from communities different from our own is always best practice. With that said, let’s look at the problem with Reid’s latest book, from the perspective of Latinx creators.
The Problem with White Authors Writing BIPOC Characters
There is a disparity between resources given to white authors and those given to BIPOC/Latinx authors.
It is no secret that white authors receive larger advances and more of a marketing budget than their non-white counterparts. Back in 2020, author L.L. McKinney started the viral hashtag #PublishingPaidMe, where authors shared the advances they’d received from publishers. Many authors participated and the results were clear: White authors were taking home much larger advances than Black authors and other authors of color.
This is not a new issue. Remember early 2020 and American Dirt? Myriam Gurba wrote a book review that brought to light the book’s issues and echoed the sentiments of many Latinx early readers. (In the piece, she refers to the book as a literary licuado that tastes like its title.) This led to viral exposure of not only the book but of the large budget given to promote it. (Remember those barbed wire centerpieces?) The white author who wrote this book received a seven-figure advance.
Many Latinx authors do not see anything close to seven-figure advances for writing books with characters based on their own identities. In a recent video, book influencer and FBC ambassador Carmen (@tomesandtextiles) pointed out that books by Latinx authors comprise only five percent of books published. Five percent. How can Latinx authors expect more when their books make up so little of the industry to begin with? Why aren’t there more books by Latinx authors being published?
One thing’s for sure: books like Carrie Soto and American Dirt take up space that should be reserved for books by Latinx authors.
More creative freedom is afforded to white authors compared to what Latinx authors are allowed.
Carmen basically read the book so we didn’t have to. Something that struck her was the fact that there is more untranslated Spanish in Carrie Soto than in any book she’s ever read, even those by Latinx authors. Some authors have expressed being encouraged to provide more context or direct translations when using Spanish, while some (ahem, white) authors seem able to throw the language around with no issue.
Our editor Natalia Santana-Pollard interviewed Natalia Sylvester (author of Breathe and Count Back From Ten) earlier this year. In their discussion, they touched on this issue. Translating Spanish, to Sylvester, would be a signal to her community that she is not writing for them. When asked about the pressure put on Latinx authors to prioritize “universality,” Sylvester had this to say:
“It says a lot that publishing seems to think that white authors’ voices will be the ones that are universal, will be the ones that essentially get trusted with these stories. Take the tourism metaphor further — who are you trusting to be the guide in this so-called experience? Do we trust white authors more because there’s going to be a certain comfort level, a certain catering to a majority white readers’ experience that is being prioritized over everyone else who gets shut out of that?”
Sylvester posed all the right questions. What we should ask ourselves is why Latinx authors are not being trusted more by the publishing industry with their own stories. How is Carrie Soto, and the author herself, contributing to the lack of trust being given to Latinx authors by the industry?
With Latinx/e Heritage Month approaching, there is bound to be mislabeling and confusion.
As September 15 nears, Latinx book recommendation lists are beginning to make the rounds. Given that this book features a Latinx surname, it is sure to end up on a list where it does not belong. Book influencer and FBC ambassador Caro (@sanjariti) pointed this out on her Instagram page, with a reminder: Reid is not Latinx, therefore her book is not good Latinx representation.
Where do we go from here?
One thing we can certainly do is support Latinx books by Latinx authors, year-round. You can start by checking out my list of Latinx horror recommendations.
And here are some of my favorite authors, along with some great books they’ve written: