Quotes: I Like to Get Lost in a World

I’ve been struggling to put to words why I usually don’t like reading short fiction that much. Sean Guynes hit the spot exactly and succinctly:

“As a rule, I don’t particularly like short fiction. Before the gasps of heresy overtake me, let me explain: I like big stories, I like to get lost in a world, to become part of the milieu of characters the author is bringing to life. Short stories can offer this and many novels don’t.” [emphasis original]

– Sean Guynes at Tor.com

Bingo. I know that excellent short stories, novelettes, or novellas do exist. Indeed, I have read them, and even own some of the latter. It’s just that often there isn’t enough space to start appreciating the nuances of the world (or characters, especially) in shorter fiction.

At times, of course, it’s just a plain lack of skill on the part of an author, but that’s a whole another story.

Guynes, Sean. “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Part I: Le Guin’s Early Stories and Germinative Tales.” Tor.com, August 12, 2020.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Why Hidden Youth Matters to Me

There are just five days to go in the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth, the anthology of speculative fiction about marginalized young people in history. As I posted before, my story, “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters,” is one of the stories in this awesome collection. I wanted to post again to thank everyone who has contributed to making Hidden Youth happen and also to say something about why this collection is so important to me, and would be even if I didn’t have a story in it.

160701frescoI teach ancient Mediterranean history at a state university. Ancient Mediterranean history is the dead-white-guy-est of all dead-white-guy history. It’s filled with the sorts of dead white guys that people make white marble statues of and that living white guys like to point to as the pinnacles of western literary, artistic, and philosophical achievement. We’ve basically had two thousand years of white guys burnishing their white-guy cred by laying exclusive claim to the legacy of the great dead white guys of the ancient Mediterranean. So successfully have they done this that a lot of people have a hard time imagining an ancient Mediterranean world that isn’t all white guys.

Now, I’m a white guy. I’ve always had the comfort of seeing myself in history. Even as a professional historian, doing my best to be objective and fully conscious of how complicated, contingent, and constructed such identities are, I can never really know what it is like to look at history and not see people who look like me. That’s a barrier I can’t cross, but I have a lot of friends who live on the other side, especially my students.

Half my students are women and a lot of them are black, Hispanic, and southeast Asian kids from working-class towns. They’ve lived their lives in the shadow of other people’s histories. They have been shown the dead-white-guy-marble-statue version of history and told—sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly—“This is ours. You don’t belong here.” I consider it my job to say: “Yes, you do. You were always part of this history.”

160701kantharosThe ancient Mediterranean world was multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and full of connections both within itself and to the larger world beyond. Like in my story, there were Egyptians in late classical Athens with their own Isis temple. A Sri Lankan king sent ambassadors to open diplomatic relations with Rome. And it wasn’t all a bunch of men, either. The queen of Halicarnassus was a military adviser to the Persian king. A wealthy woman of African ancestry was buried in style in late Roman York. The evidence is everywhere once you start to look for it.

The power of dead-white-guy-marble-statue history is strong and it needs to be challenged. I confront it in the classroom and my scholarly work, but we also need books like Hidden Youth out there to send the message: history is for everyone, not just people who look like me.

If you’ve already supported Hidden Youth, thank you so much. If you haven’t, please consider it. You can give as little as a dollar, and if you can’t do that, please spread the word.

On a less serious note, let me offer an added incentive to give: if Hidden Youth meets its funding goal, in honor of the collection’s theme I promise to translate and post my picks for The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.

UPDATE: Hidden Youth got funded! Hooray! So, as promised, here you go: The Top Five Greek and Latin Poems that Read Like Teenage Facebook Updates.

Images: Bull leaping fresco (restored), photograph by Nikater, via Wikimedia (Knossos; 1550-1450 BCE; fresco). Janifrom kantharos, via People of Color in European Art History (Etruria, currently Villa Giulia; 6th c. BCE; ceramic)

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Hidden Youth Kickstarter

Life is tough as a flute girl working the streets of Athens—and that’s before the monsters attacked. When the city’s guardian statues suddenly come to life and start rampaging through the city, Mnestra, an Egyptian girl, and her Thracian friend Lampedo get separated in the chaos. Can Mnestra find the courage to rescue her friend and confront not only the monsters tearing up the city but also the most powerful man in Athens?

My short story “How I Saved Athens from the Stone Monsters” will be published this fall in the anthology Hidden Youth, a collection of 22 short fantasy and science fiction stories about young people from marginalized groups throughout history. This anthology follows the previous collection Long Hidden which told the stories of people who are often left out of speculative fiction.

I am honored to have my work chosen for Hidden Youth, but this anthology needs our help to make it out into the world. Check out the Kickstarter for Hidden Youth and consider supporting this work.

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