TV’s growth is a boon for ‘diverse voices’ among novelists

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Growing up as an avid reader, Kwana Jackson knew where to look for romance novels with black characters: separated into the “African American Interest” section where only determined buyers would find them.

When Jackson became a published author, she saw other ways to obscure writers of color, potentially affecting both book sales and the chances of their work gaining attention from the entertainment industry.

“That’s why, after 10 novels, I was surprised and thrilled when my agent came to me and said, ‘We got interested in ‘Real Men Knit,'” Jackson said of his 2020 novel about four brothers in Harlem, New York, optioned by a production company for a possible television series.

What she calls a dream come true is a pragmatic reflection of the unprecedented number of TV stations needing shows and the growing push for inclusive pricing – a punch creating opportunities for overlooked writers and prospects. ignored.

“There’s a huge appetite for diverse voices and for voices that are almost forgotten,” said Steve Fisher, head of intellectual property and partner at talent agency APA.

While the entertainment industry was born hungry for adaptations – a 1908 version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” is the first proof – today’s beneficiaries include writers of color, those in the LGBTQ community and women.

When Jason Bateman’s film and television production company requested the rights to APA client Tess Sharpe’s novel ‘The Girls I’ve Been’, Fisher met executive Tracey Nyberg, who explained the strong interest of society: Sharpe represents both a female and LGBTQ point of view. “and we want to be part of the vanguard of new voices,” Fisher recalled, telling Nyberg.

The debut science fiction novel by young adult author MK England was quickly snapped up. England identifies as non-binary and queer, and their characters reflect varying ethnic and religious backgrounds as well as LGBTQ diversity.

English space adventure “The Disasters” was optioned ahead of its hardcover release in late 2018 and is in development for The CW Network. Although England know the adaptations differ from the source material, they will be victorious if the series comes to fruition – which, they realistically note, is not guaranteed.

“I love the work so much, I love the characters so much,” England said. “Just the chance of these getting out to more people means a lot, even though I know they won’t be the same versions I wrote.”

Paying for screen rights is a welcome addition to a writer’s income, but “no one gets rich here,” England said. “All I want is a lasting career. I’m not looking for Scrooge McDuck to do that.

Jackson, who has said she strives to write stories that fully portray black and other ethnic characters, both in conflict and in love, believes such portrayals on television have the power to eliminate stereotypes and build empathy.

“We have to change that perception of how we’ve been shown. We are like everyone else, with real stories, real love, real joy, real problems,” she said.

Sean Berard, literary director of the management agency Grandview, thanks the editors for making the effort to find stories “from authentic places” and for bringing their authors the deserved attention.

“We hear from time to time of a (rights) rush for a certain project, a certain book, that isn’t even published,” Bérard said.

Such fierce competition was inevitable. Within a year, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have been joined by new streaming services, including Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max and Peacock, all racing for viewers and justifying their viewing fees. subscription alongside premium cable channels such as HBO and Showtime.

The entertainment industry’s overall demand for content has “increased exponentially” over the past few years, said Michael Cader, founder of Newsletter Publishers Marketplace. Streaming services are among the most needy outlets, and book-related content “often brings built-in audiences and respect,” he said.

Their industry has also become keenly aware of demands for change, facing organized criticism in the form of #OscarsSoWhite and the #MeToo movement, among others, and against the backdrop of rising social and political tensions in the country.

Established writers are among the beneficiaries of the content rush, including those whose literary novels make it harder to transfer to the screen. Colson Whitehead, for example, was “a fabulous writer for decades and now he’s finally getting his adaptation,” Cader said.

Whitehead’s 2016 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Underground Railroad” is the African-American writer’s inaugural work on screen, the basis of an Amazon series that will debut May 14.

Sci-fi and fantasy author NK Jemisin became the first black writer to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel, for 2015’s “The Fifth Season,” then went on to win three in a row. Jemisin’s work has yet to be adapted, but his “Legacy Trilogy” was reportedly optioned earlier this year.

Although black-themed projects have been at the forefront, producers are beginning to cast a wider net. Native American author Angeline Boulley’s 2021 debut novel, “Firekeeper’s Daughter,” a thriller set on an Ojibwe reservation, is in development for Netflix by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company. Charles Yu’s 2020 National Book Award-winning novel “Interior Chinatown” is in development for Hulu, which has commissioned a pilot based on the forthcoming first novel “Olga Dies Dreaming” by Xochitl Gonzalez.

Despite the signs of change, MK England, for their part, are not ready to sit back and cheer.

“People say, ‘It’s fine now, we’ve achieved equality here, the industry isn’t racist or homophobic anymore because, you see, we have those things,'” England said. “That’s just not the case. There’s still a lot of work to be done, especially in terms of racial representation and having people of color in the industry, deciding.