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Voices on the Margins

Remarks to open the session on “Voices on the Margins,” Bouchercon 2014, Long Beach

We live in a society that is contemptuous of the written word. Many, perhaps most, cities and states in America have cut budgets for schools and libraries repeatedly in the last several years. We easily find money for sports arenas, we subsidize members of Congress who own cotton farms, but we make no pretense of putting money into supporting the written word. In that sense, every person at this convention, readers and writers, live on the margin of American society.

Eddie embraces Clare O'Donoghue, Jamie Freveletti, Charlaine Harris, and me

Eddie embraces Clare O’Donoghue, Jamie Freveletti, Charlaine Harris, and me at the Voices event

As lovers of crime fiction, we are further marginalized by writing genre fiction. We aren’t writers, we are crime writers. Every now and then a carrot bobs up in the stew and is proclaimed as having “transcended the genre.” Kate Atkinson, for instance, regularly “transcends the genre.” The rest of us are hacks.

Every word used to pinpoint our identity pushes further to the edge of the page, away from the center: I am a woman, white, heterosexual, WEEJ, progressive, feminist, grandmother crime writer. Never simply a writer. All those labels make up part of my identity, and my identity informs my writing, but I try to transcend my identity, to write about people from many backgrounds, many viewpoints. I try to be faithful to my voice, to my gift, to that incredible magic, the word made visible.

Every person at this convention takes part in many identities. We have Tea Party activists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, Lesbians, Gay, Trans-gendered, African-American, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Christian, Asian-American men, women who like serial killers or cozies or true crime or espionage or PI’s or or or…

The one thing we share is that we are passionate about the written word, whether we are writers, readers, librarians, editors, agents. We cannot let ourselves be splintered by identity politics. We must find ways of coming together around our shared passion in a world that devalues literacy and the literate.

(by the way, a WEEJ is a white Eastern-European Jew)

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  • Susan

    I cannot claim to be a writer of any genre but I value writers and especially what you/they do with words. I especially like the phrase above, “we cannot allow ourselves to be splintered by identity politics.” It applies to any group working for a worthy cause!

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