My name is Tilley Creary and I’m a 1st generation Canadian who’s family background is Nigerian. Born here, I’ve always been a lover of books. Riding my bike long distances as a child, back and forth with a backpack full of books was time well spent for me, in spite of the low-income neighborhood I grew up in. As with any media I consume, it’s always nice to see people who look like me (women and black women in particular) reflected on the pages. There is a lot of fiction out there that features black women, but honestly, the stories I’ve seen (mostly very dramatic romances) do not appeal to me. I prefer my stories to be of the science fiction genre, and I can’t recall any, off hand, that feature people of colour, who aren’t aliens.
Q: When growing up, who were your inspirational role models and how did they help you become the person you are today?
My role models were women like Whoopi Goldberg and Diana Ross who, being the entertainers they are, always amazed me as a child because I would see them and want to be them. They, and women like them, were big, bold and damn good at what they did. They still inspire me to this day.
Q: Explain how you feel about present day role models, in particular, for young people who read or watch Genre Fiction / Shows.
Present day role models are a tricky thing, because the stars of today bear little resemblance to the stars of my youth. You can’t compare people like Oprah Winfrey to someone like Nicki Minaj, there’s no comparison. They are both talented, but Nicki is a different breed of ‘celebrity’ that I just can’t relate to. My sons are young right now and I can only imagine what the ‘celebrities’ of their teen years will be like. Hopefully there will be a few rays of sunshine.
Q: How do you think society can change the representation of role models?
It would be nice if they were treated less like “rock stars” and more like human beings. I think everyone could benefit from being treated like regular human beings…
Q: How do you feel about the “whitewashing” of fiction?
I’m conflicted. On the one hand, it doesn’t bother me. A good story is a good story, no matter the skin colour of the characters being portrayed. You give me a good book or movie and I’ll love it no matter who’s staring in it. On the other hand, it’s wonderful to see people of colour being represented more often. Watching “The Wiz Live” recently reminded me of how much more “alive” a production can be when I can see my life’s experience reflected on stage. The first time I saw “Wicked” the character of Fiyero was played by a black man and I was ecstatic to see a performance where the male lead was a person of colour. The second and third times I saw Wicked, Fiyero was played by white men, and it just wasn’t the same.
Q: Recently, J.K. Rowling supported the casting of a black actress as the adult-aged Hermione for a London stage play. If you are familiar with Rowling’s work, do you feel that she represented Hermione as a black character? Is not specifying skin colour enough to create character diversity? How do you think authors/writers can properly represent diversity without deferring to stereotypes of race or culture?
I don’t think she portrayed Hermione as a potentially black character. I think that the way she is written, the fact that she was a smart, odd-ball of a girl was enough to separate her from the other girls in the story. Skin colour didn’t matter. I think regardless of what colour a character is written to be, TV and film makers should be open to giving the part to whomever they think will do the most creative job in portraying that person. People should be written as people first, heritage later (unless a specific heritage is essential to the plot). We’re all human beings, after all.
Q: Here’s the kicker: should white authors, and able-bodied authors, write about diverse characters, or should that opportunity only be for people who live the life of diversity?
I think anyone can and should write about any character they like, as long as they do the research to back up any points that might be considered outside of their own personal life experience.
Q: What books/shows do you suggest best represent diversity in Genre Fiction?
I think shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Black-ish and How to Get Away with Murder are doing a fantastic job showing a diverse cast of characters. With the exception of The Walking Dead graphic novel series which has a great diversity of characters, the books I’ve been reading lately have been mostly in the young adult science fiction genre and, now that I think about it, have a serious lack of obviously diverse characters when it comes to skin colour. Not that the characters are specifically written as “white,” but neither are they written as “black,” so I suppose when I imagine them in my head, I imagine them as white. There is a market for diversity in fiction, I guess I’d better get started on adding to what’s available for women like me who like to read 🙂
If you’d like to be part of my #WeNeedDiverseBooks interview series, email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s more to come in this series of interviews. Next up in the series: The Diversity of Disability. Have you read the first post?
Please note that although I did not create the #WeNeedDiverseBooks tag, I wholeheartedly agree with the movement!