Bring Your Own Food to the Table

There’s something about Twitter that brings out the best, and worst, in people. Within the last few months that I’ve been active on its YA blogging/writing scene (and by active I mean silently stalking, favoriting and retweeting—you know, the usual Twitter activity that’s devoid of actually tweeting) I’ve seen bloggers, writers, and industry professionals having critical conversations about representation in the medium. Over the last few years, these discussions have taken many forms, from hashtag activism (#OwnVoices, #BiVisibility, #FergusonReads, #KidLit4Justice), livechats (#wndbchat, #GayYA #diverseya), to threads where members within the community share their personal accounts, experiences, and perspectives about the publishing industry’s continued lack of diversity. Despite seasonal trolls and bouts of backlash against the movement, writers, bloggers, and industry professionals seem dedicated to bringing about concrete changes to make the realm of writing more inclusive.

Now, with #OwnYourOwn, emerging creators in marginalized groups have an opportunity to voice their thoughts on their craft and the community, and to give encouragement to new creators. This week, I’m excited to read what other #ownvoice creators have to say about their work and their perspective on the industry, but when it comes to writing something myself, to voicing my own thoughts, I’m terrified—which is exactly why I’m writing this post today.

As a 21 year old Ghanaian girl, my gender, race, age, and ethnicity, have constantly put me in a space where I have to affirm and reaffirm the validity of my identity, my creative purists and, of course, my opinions to others:

Who are you to want to see yourself in the media you love?

Who are you to question how you’re portrayed, to criticize it when it’s done in a harmful way?

Who are you to create, and to be credited and paid for your work?

Who are you to want a seat at the table?

WHO ARE YOU?

IMG_3119(self portrait circa way back when ’12)

Being in the World

Growing up, I’ve become accustomed to these questions. I’ve memorized answers, facts, statistics, and theories in my search to forge a place in social groups, the classroom, and in the workplace. I know that before I can get a seat at the table, I need to get in line—and before I can get in line, I need to spend years, decades—probably most of my life—working in the back of the house, preparing the meals that I wish to one day serve myself and share with others.

Maybe along the way, someone will offer me a seat. They may have had their place reserved for them through decades of saving spots, cutting in line, and pushing other people out of their place. Or maybe they waited in line, or are still making their way to it and somehow, kindly bring attention to my work in the kitchen during their trek to the front.

Maybe, but probably not, and until the rules at the dinner table change, or I catch a spot of good luck, I’ve always known that I have to keep my head down as I silently work to get a seat in the vicinity of the movers and shakers of the world.

Being Online

On Twitter, it’s different.

Here, not only do you get a seat at the dining hall, but the moment you sign up and verify your name, you get utensils to devour whatever discussions are being had, and a serving spoon to add your own thoughts to the mix. Eat up, Twitter seems to say, and while you’re at it, why don’t you have a conversation with your favorite author about a series you both enjoy, or maybe talk to your dream agent about the novel you’ve just finish. It all seems exciting, so wonderful and intimate, but then you raise your voice and…silence.

A nearby conversation is drowning yours out. Plates are clattering, utensils clashing, and the red faced man across the room is shouting. You turn to the creator sitting beside you, the one whose work you deeply admire, and try to start a thread, but they won’t engage with you in a meaningful way. They can’t, because while you may recognize them through their work, they don’t know you. They don’t know you.

And there it is again, that question.

Who are you?

But this time, it’s you asking yourself.

WHO AM I?

Being an emerging creator, I often find myself stuck in this space of doubt. I see all these wonderful conversations, start following all these amazing creators, yet find myself asking,

Who am I to participate in the dialogue about representation?

Who am I to reach out to other writers, authors, or any professionals in the community?

Who am I to think my voice is valid, or necessary, or wanted?

 It’s a question of confidence, of not just asserting my worth to others, but believing in those affirmations myself. While many on Twitter have found success in selling a version of themselves to followers, the ones who find a community do so because their voices are genuine, because it resonates with others.

Being Yourself

So what advice do I have for emerging #ownvoice creators? How do you find that courage, that confidence you need to take part in the conversation and to carve a space for yourself within the community?

Bring your own food to the table.

It’s the creators who prepare their own meals, the ones who don’t just dish out their work, but share it with their peers and the community, who shine. It wasn’t until I started writing, blogging, and putting my artwork online, that I’ve felt like I had a voice at the table.

In just these last few months alone, and directly related to the channels of support in the Twitter book community, I’ve been able to work with generous authors on my query and manuscript, and have been able to attend my first writing workshop, a masterclass in which I also received a stipend to attend.

These opportunities have been amazing. They’ve given me a chance to meet and work with some wonderful individuals, they’ve fostered a sense of place for me within the community, and most of all, they’ve made me more confident in myself and in the work I create. Even so, I never would have had these experiences if I hadn’t started creating and sharing my own work.

I’ve found my voice through my stories and art. I’ve found answers in creating, in liking my work, hating it, questioning it, getting feedback, and being inspired to create more. So who am I?

I’m a writer.

I’m an artist.

I will be an author.

I will be an illustrator.

To all you emerging #ownvoice creators out there, I say this,

Own your own.

There are opportunities for you here. There are spaces where people want to hear your voice and see your work. Share your work. Create content, take part in discussions, listen to conversations, and pass the plate, because there are plenty of empty stomachs waiting to be filled with your stories.