Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Monday, June 03, 2013

Fireworks, and clarity--

The speculative writing world has gone off like fireworks again, this time over remarks about "lady writers" and "lady editors" and then later about woman's "quiet dignity" (referring to Barbie, of all things!) As someone who, thanks to two Southern fantasies written for my children and a post-apocalyptic blank verse poem, is occasionally invited to the speculative party and asked for anthology stories, I am near enough to that world to understand what is going on and to sympathize with writers and readers who feel a deep anger over the latest Resnick-Mahlberg debate in the SWFA Bulletin. (If you want to see some samples, google SWFA and E. Catherine Tobler, Foz Meadows, or Jim C. Hines for a start.)

But as somebody usually tossed in the "literary" camp, and who has written poetry and novels of many sorts and has never been to a con or read a Bulletin, I also have distance. What strikes me is that the unifying thread between the absurdities in the original article (the "ladyness" and focus on beauty in an editor, Old White Guys, Sean Hannity, etc.), subsequent woman-as-Barbie response, and the also-absurd "woman warrior" in armor-bikini on the Bulletin cover is one fatal to the writer: a refusal to see accurately all human beings as whole people and then portray them as such.

If you see clearly and in fullness, and depict believable people on the page, then characters have a chance to be so alive that time cannot easily devour their vigor and life. As Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety." This call for the writer to see and show with accuracy reaches past gender politics to the very heart of creation.

Likewise, if anyone sees other people clearly in ordinary life, he or she will tend to speak of them with the same clarity. To do so is to do them a kind of justice.

It is not because Resnick and Malzberg are Old White Guys, as they said of themselves, that their article so offended readers. Despite what some commenters have said, young people have no automatic claim on seeing more clearly and portraying more accurately than others. Nor do non-white people have such a claim. Nor do women. Nobody gets a pass on these things.

We all have blinders to remove. An Old White Guy has the same chance as any other to see clearly and in fullness--that fullness that leads to respect of one toward another and understanding--those who inhabit the changing world around him. An example? Melville was once an extremely Old White Guy, still striving for beauty and wholeness in words. So let's not let anybody off on an Old White Guy technicality. An OWGT is just not good enough. The goal for the Old White Guy in life or in written words should be the same goal as for the rest of us: to try harder to see, to know, and to catch the truth of human life in our daily words. And that includes the truth of women, who do not fight wars in brass bras, who do not care to be diminished and patted on the head, and who should be portrayed in their rich and "infinite variety." For a writer to fail to do so is to fail justice, and to fail creation's call.


  1. I hadn't heard about this but it is absurd and bizarre, from the sound of it.
    Whether these are writers or purveyors of printed matter, there is no excuse for such attitudes. They cannot help but hurt these people's business in the long run. At least, I hope they do.

  2. Yes, I expect it will not be a help to their books. Unless maybe they adopt a somewhat different stance--that might help the next book.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.