We Are Crime Writers of Color

You may not have heard of Crime Writers of Color. I hadn’t either, though I’ve now been a proud member for the last two months. As I mentioned in my previous post about finding my tribe, I sat with several other writers of color at the final dinner of the Creatures, Crime and Creativity Conference in October. One of my colleagues at dinner suggested we consider joining the Crime Writers of Color group, since most of us at the table were authors of mysteries and other crime fiction. We sent in requests to join the group through Groups.io and I have been enjoying the interactions with those other writers ever since. Crime Writers of Color was founded in 2018 by a group of writers including Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Walter Mosley, and Multiple award winning authors Kellye Garrett and Gigi Pandian.

You see, there was a time when few short stories, novels or TV shows—anything in popular media—featured people of color as the central characters, or as the writers. Were I to ask people to name five fictional detectives, it’s likely they wouldn’t mention one of color. And the same would likely be the result if I asked about writers of color.

In a recent roundtable  held in Los Angeles and attended by several authors, Walter Mosley talked about his experience with the first Easy Rawlins novel he wrote—Gone Fishin’—and how difficult it was to get publishers to believe that a book featuring a black central character could sell. Mosley’s experience was typical when he approached his publisher.

“‘Well, this is really good writing but there’s no audience.’ What they were meaning was that you know, white people don’t read about black people, black women don’t like black men, and black men don’t read, so what are we gonna do with that book?”

And while this was 1987 or 1988, as Mosley reported, there were still people who wondered if the film Black Panther would appeal to non-black people when it came out. I guess that concern has been silenced, huh?

Joining this august but informal group with about a hundred authors from across the country is a little intimidating, particularly for a newer writer, but everyone is welcoming. We’re not a formal group in terms of having by-laws or a central administration, yet when nudged or when we see something worthy of a response, we don’t hesitate. That happened in late November, 2018 when Mystery Writers of America (MWA) announced that Linda Fairstein, author of several successful mystery novels, was being honored with the designation of Grand Master by the association. Mystery Writers of America is one of the best-known associations of mystery and crime writers in America. Annually, they present the Edgar, Raven and Ellery Queen Awards to writers, and others involved in crime fiction. MWA also recognizes lifetime achievement for writers with designation as a Grand Master. Linda Fairstein was one of the two authors chosen for the Grand Master honor this year. However, before her career as an author, Fairstein was better known as a former prosecutor of sex crimes who was deeply involved in the prosecution of five young men—boys, really—accused of raping and beating the Central Park jogger in 1989. The boys served sentences of between six and thirteen years in prison for the assault. After serving their complete sentences, all five now men were fully exonerated when another man confessed to the crime, and his DNA matched that at the crime scene. It was also the sole DNA on the body of the victim in the attack.

Even with the sentences of the young men being vacated, Linda Fairstein has never acknowledged her role in their incarceration, and has defended her actions as late as November 27, 2018. When this was brought to the attention of the Crime Writers of Color group, we took action. We used social media to raise awareness about the MWA’s decision, and MWA has since rescinded  the Grand Master designation for Fairstein.

My point is that the voices of those who have been historically disenfranchised or simply lost behind the scenes need to be heard and acknowledged. The actions raising awareness about Fairstein occurred in a matter of hours, and even an informal group like Crime Writers of Color made a bigger difference by working together than any of us might have done alone.

I’m proud and happy to be part of Crime Writers of Color: joining was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

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