Vol. 3: Author Matthew Salesses and Editor Emi Ikkanda on the Industry Change-Makers

Recently, the New York Times published an article called “What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood (If you’re not a straight white man),” a collection of stories from actors, directors, producers, and other film professionals who are consistently marginalized and underrepresented in a white male-dominated industry. To draw attention to similar issues in publishing, an industry with a dramatic disparity in racial demographics, we're collecting stories from writers, agents, and editors of color about what it's like to work and publish in an industry historically dominated by white people.

In advance of the Writers of Color Roundtable event at GrubStreet's Muse and the Marketplace conference on Friday, April 29, we’re kicking off the conversation with #Muse16 presenters. In this installment are author Matthew Salesses, who will be leading a Muse session on Novel Plot and Structure: In Search of the Inciting Incident, and editor Emi Ikkanda, a Writers of Color Roundtable speaker.


Who has inspired you? Or, who is making positive changes in the industry?


Matthew Salesses: Vivian Lee and Morgan Parker at Little A. hire editors of color!


Emi Ikkanda: I am so inspired by my authors; I love publishing on a wide range of subjects, and many of my authors work to advance the national conversation on various issues, including diversity. Some have diverse backgrounds, like Chinese novelist Lijia Zhang and disabled comedian Zach Anner. Some write about destroying stereotypes and building much needed bridges: like New York Times bestselling author Richard Reeves in his recent bestseller Infamy on the Japanese American internment in WWII, or TIME journalist Carla Power in her book If the Oceans Were Ink, a National Book Award finalist, on her yearlong journey through the Quran. It's a joy advocating for my authors and celebrating their books.

I am also working on diversity on other fronts, and have met amazing people who are making positive changes in the industry. One example who has gotten quite a bit of well earned attention recently Chris Jackson, the former Spiegel & Grau editor who just recently was named publisher of the One World imprint at Penguin Random House. I loved the New York Times magazine profile on him, "How Chris Jackson Is Building A Black Literary Movement." He is the editor for Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jay Z, Trevor Noah, Prince, and Eddie Huang, to name a few — I highly recommend you check out Eddie's half-page-long acknowledgement to Chris in Fresh Off The Boat; I love re-reading it, and it never fails to inspire me about my chosen profession!

But he's just one of many, many great folks who are making a difference here. Last year I became a founding member of the Macmillan Diversity & Inclusion Council, and a member of the Diversity Dialogue group with the Association of American Publishers — and these are just a couple of the organizations working on promoting diversity in the book world. We have work ahead, but I’m excited to do my part.


Matthew Salesses is the author of The Hundred-Year Flood, an Amazon Best Book of September and a Kindle First pick, and a season’s best selection at BuzzfeedRefinery29Gawker, and elsewhere. His other books include I’m Not Saying, I’m Just SayingDifferent Racisms, and The Last Repatriate

Matthew was adopted from Korea and has written about adoption, race, and parenting for NPR Code Switch, The New York Times Motherlode, SalonThe ToastThe Millions, the Center for Asian American Media, The Rumpus, and The Good Men Project, among others. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer TrainAmerican Short FictionWitnessWest Branch, PEN/Guernica, and many more. 

Matthew has received awards and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Glimmer TrainMid-American Review[PANK]HTMLGIANTIMPACInprint, and elsewhere. He did his MFA at Emerson College, where he edited Redivider Journal. He is currently a Cambor Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in Creative Writing & Literature at the University of Houston, where he serves as Online Fiction Editor for Gulf Coast. He teaches an online novel course for GrubStreet.


Emi Ikkanda pursues a diverse list at Holt, and she most recently edited New York Times-bestselling author Richard Reeves’s Infamy and journalist Carla Power’s National Book Award-longlisted memoir If The Oceans Were Ink. Her forthcoming titles include disabled comedian and TV star Zach Anner’s memoir If At Birth You Don’t Succeed and Lijia Zhang’s novel Lotus, which centers on a love story set in Shenzhen, the “city of sins.” Emi pursues humorous or eye-opening memoirs, and journalistic or narrative nonfiction exploring various topics including current affairs, 20th-century history, war, race, gender, science, adventure, food, and film. For her select fiction list, she is seeking multicultural or 20th-century historical novels that focus on family, creative life, secrets, disappearances, or unusual relationships. She loves going on a journey and exploring hidden worlds, in fiction or nonfiction.

About the Author

GrubWrites is a space for the writing and reading community to share ideas and seek advice, a place where writers at the very beginning of their careers publish alongside established authors. Book lovers, we bring you reviews, recommendations, and conversations with exciting new authors to keep you up to speed on all things lit. Writers, this is your one stop shop for expert craft talk, opinions on how we learn and teach writing, and essential advice about the publishing industry.

Plus, we want to hear from you! Our ongoing call for submissions is open to literary community members of all types and persuasions. We want to hear from students, teachers, authors, readers, editors, agents, publicists, and any devotee of the written word. If you have something to say about writing, reading, the publishing industry, or anything related to the literary world, this is the place to voice it. We’re particularly committed to advocating for a diverse range of voices in the literary marketplace and raising the visibility of writers from under-represented communities.

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