Letters to the Editor: On representation in Seattle: City of Literature

Dear Editor:

Donna Miscolta raises a valid point in her review/essay, "Reflections by and about white people." I'm not sure what the phrase "comprehensive snapshot" means, as used in a short review that appeared in Seattle Met, but its application to the anthology, Seattle: City of Literature set Donna off about the lack of ethnic diversity in the book.

Initially, I was willing to go along with her criticism. If you look at the table of contents, only six people of color contributed. Donna praises Elissa Washuta's opening piece on Vi Hilbert. Then I got to the sentence "But the rest of the book pretty much renders writers of color invisible." And with that, boom! She rendered the rest of us, and our subjects, invisible.

Worse, on Facebook one of the contributors seemed to apologize for her participation in the project. Why is one writer of color apologizing to another for her inclusion in an anthology?

I was not recruited for this anthology. I asked to participate. I also suggested that the editor, Ryan Boudinot, contact Donna Miscolta, Flor Fernandez, and Anna Bálint. I was sure people like Alan Lau, Peter Bacho, Keith Jourdan and Carletta Carrington Wilson would be asked to contribute, even if they chose not to. Apparently not.

Boudinot starts his intro by calling the contributors "a representative selection of the city's writers and book lovers" and later tries to cover all bases by saying "the table of contents... could just as easily have been comprised of an entirely different list of writers." But it wasn't.

I asked to contribute in part because my writing has been left out of similar anthologies, rendering me invisible to that particular audience. The work of writers like Bharti Kirchner, Shawn Wong, Sonora Jha and Charles Mudede is so important to me, I don't want to see them declared invisible just because Donna says so. Can all of us be dismissed because there are not enough of us?

The dearth of writing by and about people of color when I moved here in 1983 was pretty severe. In 1991, Phoebe Bosché, Phil Red Eagle and I started the Raven Chronicles to provide a more realistic profile of, and venue for, multicultural writers. Soon, we will publish a first anthology. The table of contents of the Raven Chronicles anthology could just as easily have been comprised of an entirely different list of writers.

This not-quite-so comprehensive snapshot is part of Seattle's bid to become an internationally recognized City of Literature. It amuses me to imagine what international readers might make of us based on these stories. Maybe they will ask the same questions as Donna.

It would be great if there was an ongoing series of anthologies once/if Seattle receives this designation. I’m kind of hoping that Donna gets a chance to edit a representative anthology for the City of Seattle someday. I've got a few things in the works. And I'm not apologizing for trying to remain visible.


Kathleen Alcalá

DONNA MISCOLTA REPLIES: My piece was not about the individual writers of color who were included in the anthology, each of whom has a well-deserved reputation for achievement. I was not saying that instead of those writers of color, these other writers of color should have been chosen. My piece was about the overall representation and the missed opportunities for a broader survey of the writers of color that have contributed to the literary life of Seattle. And rather than an apology from a contributor of color, I read an acknowledgement of the problem that pervades our culture – structural racism – and a commitment to uncovering it in even seemingly innocuous situations. Any discussion about race, equity,and inclusion will elicit strong emotions, which can only be for the good as we strive for the same goal. The more we talk about these things, the better we as a society will understand what’s at the root of a deep historical hurt and work together to ameliorate it.