Interview conducted by Alicja Minda.
Our fellow Editors Toronto member, Adebe DeRango-Adem, is Editors Canada’s first equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) adviser, appointed in October 2020. The national executive council (NEC) created this position to help implement the Statement of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion that members voted on in 2019.
Adebe is an editor and published author who has extensive experience in the realms of publishing, cultural programming, and anti-racism and human rights/equity education. She is the author of three full-length poetry books to date—Ex Nihilo (Frontenac House, 2010), Terra Incognita (Inanna Publications, 2015), and The Unmooring (Mansfield Press, 2018). She is also co-editor (with Andrea Thompson) of the anthology Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out (Inanna Publications, 2010).
We asked Adebe about her career and her plans in her new role as EDI adviser:
Please tell us a little about your experience. What kind of editing work do you do, and what made you choose this path?
My main areas of interest and expertise are with poetry, fiction, and then non-fiction (in that order). I picked up various editorships in my life without having known, necessarily, that I wanted to be an editor; it was simply something I could do and had a knack for. For several years I thought I wanted a path in academia, and graduate studies were a great way to be in the conversation of books and who wrote what. But then I realized that I didn’t want to simply teach good books and then write books about those books for an audience who, let’s face it, comprises a very small readership. I wanted to write those good books getting taught in classrooms and help bring more good books into the world—for audiences both within and beyond the classroom. Editing and publishing have offered me the most direct means of honing my relationship to literature.
Apart from being an editor, you are also an accomplished poet. Is there a tension between the two, or do they reinforce each other?
It’s funny, I hadn’t thought through this question until now. But poetry is also about honing in, like editing. Both are very much alike in vision and intent—the poet, like the editor, wants to get to “the heart” of things. Both bring a kind of architectural or sculptural awareness to life, in which no detail is too big or too small. The poet and the editor add and take away until the perfect piece is achieved. Then again, while there may never be that “perfectly” edited piece, just as the writer knows “the work” is never done, both types of work require a commitment to vision—whether to one’s own or to a client’s.
Why did you decide to take on the role of EDI adviser and what does the role involve? Why do you feel it is necessary to an organization like Editors Canada?
I created this inaugural position in conjunction with Editors Canada past president, Gael Spivak, who forwarded the idea to the NEC. I thought there should be a key resource (to the NEC and the larger Editors Canada community) on matters related to equity, diversity, and inclusion. I work closely with the EDI task force and have signed on to continue as EDI adviser until June 2022. Since there are so many facets to EDI, having an official equity committee might serve our members better in that there would be multiple avenues of support. There is the aspect of advisory support on an as-needed basis for issues that may arise; there is also the collection of efforts from various Editors Canada volunteers across different committees, who have helped bring together the first-ever EDI web page to be featured through Editors Canada.
Then there’s the larger conversation I think we should be having about ways to highlight BIPOC editors and publishers (as well as authors, reviewers, readers) and their perspectives and successes, through our respective social media networks. As we find ways to reach out to diverse communities, we also need to be mindful of the interlocking (il)logics of race, class, and ability. In my own experience as a Black editor in a historically white space, and as an independent scholar of literature, I feel it is my duty to open doors in the literary world however and whenever I can, and where I see no doors, try to create them.
What do you hope to achieve as the EDI adviser?
A huge list of inclusivity-related resources has recently been made public on the Editors Canada website. Also, I am in conversation with the publications committee, which is creating a handbook about editing for sensitivity. I like Sangeeta Mehta’s definition of sensitivity provided at the recent Editors Toronto program, Balancing Cultural Sensitivity with Craft, which is to “avoid biases, inaccuracies, potential blind spots, and any perpetuation of harmful stereotypes while keeping various elements of literary craft in mind.”
Also, the EDI task force and I have forwarded an official letter to the NEC in support of a fellowship for structurally disadvantaged editors in order to make equity—through the creation of new opportunities—a priority within the organization. As EDI adviser, I am constantly looking at what can be improved so that Editors Canada is a safe and welcoming place for all, and especially for BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, neurodiverse, and differently abled persons.
From your perspective, what are some challenges facing BIPOC writers and editors in Canada today?
The overarching whiteness of it, mostly. Or maybe I saw this as a result of having lived (too) many years in the US—a place where disclosing one’s marginalized standpoint/position doesn’t always reap rewards, let’s say. When The Associated Press changed its usage rules to capitalize the word Black when referring to people in a racial, ethnic, or cultural context, it felt like a move in the right direction. But that’s just it—some moves are merely gestures, even if they’re facing the right way. Hastily made gestures are the ones that irk me, and editors of all identities are implied in racism and anti-Black racism in particular.
The editorial world doesn’t necessarily reflect people who look like me, and there are systemic reasons for that, having to do with publishing and with history, and also having to do with the cycles of disenfranchisement that continue to affect so many BIPOC communities today. Diversity statements are always nice, but they’re no substitutes for the kind of structural change institutions need to make in order to meet real EDI objectives. This is why I took up my position—to sound out the message that, while we use the term “historically disadvantaged,” the world continues to be inhospitable to us if we identify as BIPOC. Whether in a blatant or subtle fashion, doors are closed to us. Sometimes we’re able to push our way in; other times we have to push for systemic change, and that means reassessing the doorway, maybe even the whole building. In order to uphold equity, diversity, and/or inclusivity, everyone needs to be on the same page. So then when someone comes knocking, looking for a way in, someone is there to answer it. Not just point you in the direction of more resources. As Toni Morrison says (in her usual way, that cuts to the heart), “If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
Are there any books or resources you would recommend to help build sensitivity to these issues?
Here are just a few examples of the resources that I’ve found helpful:
- An Incomplete Guide to Inclusive Language for Startups and Tech
- Anti-Racism Daily
- Conscious Style Guide
- Inclusive Language Guide
- Radical Copyeditor
Finally, in the spirit of supporting Black-owned businesses, here are a few bookstores to support:
- A Different Booklist (Toronto)
- Cover to Cover Bookshelf (Winnipeg)
- Knowledge Bookstore (Brampton)
- Librairie Racines (Montréal)
- Nile Valley Books (Toronto)
- Notability (Durham)
- Old’s Cool General Store (Toronto)
- Sankofa Bookstore (Ottawa)
- Tusome Books (Winnipeg)
Readers can always contact me at [email protected] if there are any resources or organizations that are doing impactful racial justice work that may be suitable to add to our list.
Alicja Minda is a freelance journalist, editor, and researcher based in Toronto. She is the editor-in-chief of BoldFace.
This article was copy edited by Josephine Mo.