A couple of weeks ago, I was at my alma mater to speak to the Columbia Fiction Foundry folks about publishing. The session was structured as an interview and one of the questions posed to me was how we handle books about taboo subjects. I liked that question because it’s one that’s seldom asked but which is important to anyone who works in publishing (or any media, really). Given how charged the political environment is, not just here but globally, freedom of speech is a tricky, sometimes dangerous concept for those who work in the business of communicating ideas. And, yet, we take on projects all the time that have the potential to offend some or many. The rule of thumb for us is that if it’s something that doesn’t personally offend us, or it offends us but we think there’s merit in furthering the conversation on that particular topic, we don’t shy away from representing it.
This week, along with everyone else in the country, we’ve been talking about the Rachel Dolezal story and wondering if there is a book in this very bizarre journey of hers. The fact is that her actions have offended large numbers of Americans. Given how volatile the subject of race is in this country, that’s not surprising. But, regardless of where you stand on this individual’s weird appropriation of a group’s identity, it seems to me that the conversation her story has engendered is a good one. I’ve read several interesting articles about this now, among them this one by our friend Sam Freedman, which have approached the topic in diverse, but insightful ways…and isn’t that what free discourse is about? I still don’t know what the book would be, but maybe it’s one about the very notion of discussing taboo subjects.
So, what taboos would you tackle or shy away from in your own writing? And which would you like to see more deeply explored in print?