The 2015 Man Booker prize winner Marlon James has slammed the publishing world, saying authors of colour too often “pander to white women” to sell books, and that he could have been published more often if he had written “middle-style prose and private ennui”.
At a sold-out Guardian event on Friday night, James said publishers too often sought fiction that “panders to that archetype of the white woman, that long-suffering, astringent prose set in suburbia. You know, ‘older mother or wife sits down and thinks about her horrible life’.”
Women, particularly white women, make up the vast majority of regular fiction readers, purchasing two thirds of all books sold in the UK. Almost 50% of women classify themselves as avid readers, compared to 26% of men.
James said that because white women readers dominate the market, “the male editors will only accept one type of story. Everyone knows what a New Yorker story will look like. I could have been published 10 times over – I knew that there was a certain kind of prose I could have written; intense scenes that hinted, rather than explored.”
“We writers of colour spend way too much time pandering to the white woman … astringent, observed, clipped, wallowing in its own middle-style prose and private ennui, porn for certain publications.”
“If I pandered to a cultural tone set by white women, particularly older white female critics, I would have had 10 stories published by now,” he continued. “Though we’ll never admit it, every writer of colour knows that they stand a higher chance of getting published if they write this kind of story. We just do.”