Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Kara Stewart's Letter to Agents and Editors

Over the weekend, Kara Stewart posted her Dear Agents and Editors letter. It consists of a series of questions that agents and editors can use to evaluate American Indian content. Kara was amongst those interviewed for the Educators Roundtable at We Need Diverse Books (I just realized there's no date stamp on that post. I believe it went up in mid-December of 2016).

A couple of weeks ago, she wrote to me about an idea she had about creating a guide for agents and editors in kidlit... a guide that can help them--and the authors they work with--recognize problems with the ways in which writers claim native ancestry, and/or create content about Native people or characters or places. I think it is a great idea! Kara's idea evolved into a document that is now up at her site.

Kara created it with two writers in mind. Each part has a list of questions an agent or editor can pose. For each question, there is a "cheat sheet" of how a writer might respond, and how the agent or editor can interpret that response and, perhaps, push further.

First is the writer who tells their agent and editor that they are Native. Across the US and Canada, there are many people who believe they have Native ancestry. This is put forth as "I'm part Native American" when they participate in discussions about issues specific to Native people. Some writers use that phrase, too, when submitting a manuscript to their agent or editor. It is a fraught claim. Many people think it is racist to ask someone to say more about that, but, that concern points to the depth of ignorance about who Native peoples are. The first part of Kara's guide is designed to help people understand that we're nations of people, and to help them understand how to ask writers about their clams to Native identity.

Second is the writer who has Native content in their manuscript. That part of the guide is designed to help agents and editors push the writer to think more deeply about why they're including Native content.

It concludes with a list of resources. Take time to read Kara's post! Send it to writers, agents, and editors! She's titled it Questions Agents and Editors Can Use to Evaluate American Indian Content.  If you have questions or comments about it, you can post them at her site. I see this as a document that can--and will evolve--with your input.

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