Why I Want The Next Insecure–for the Literary World

by Amber Oliver, HarperCollins

I’m not much of a TV watcher, I must admit. One of my favorite lines to say to my mother whenever she asks me about a funny commercial she’s recently seen, is to say “I don’t have cable.” Despite the fact that I do have subscription services to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and the like, the cable bit (which, in her mind, translates to not having television at all) is so humorous to her that it’s become a running joke between her and my older sister.

That said, I do have a handful of television shows that I do watch, namely, HBO’s wildly popular show, Insecure. I have yet to read Issa Rae’s, (the star of the show) books, but in Insecure, she certainly shines. She’s quirky, hilarious, and a college graduate, but is also unapologetically black. Her character is, to say the least, a breath of fresh air. And, that’s also true for the rest of the cast. They are all fully realized, young African-American characters, with unique personalities, careers, aspirations, hobbies, and relationships. Race is simply a natural part of their lives, rather than the focal point or an issue to confront or resolve. I haven’t seen a show quite like this and it’s clear that it has filled a void that some people didn’t even know existed. Insecure has resonated with so many people–young, old, white, black, poor, rich–and I think its universal themes and multicultural cast is the key.

While having this kind of show on-air is a huge step in the right direction, as an editor, I’d love to edit an upmarket commercial book in the vein of Insecure for the literary world. I’d love a main character like Issa, or her best friend Molly. I’d love to see characters who have careers and how they navigate the workplace as person(s) of color. I’d love to see plot lines that explore multicultural perspectives in contemporary and accessible settings. I’d love to see a tight-knit group of friends figuring out the world together. I’d love to peel back the curtain of these characters lives and learn something about their cultures. I’d love to see characters who code switch.

In other words, I’d love to read the perspective of diverse characters—whether it’s regarding ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, etc.—from own voices, in book form. I want to see books about and by people of color thrive just as well as other books because the characters are real. I want them to thrive because the voices and representations are authentic. I want them to thrive because the writing is at once beautiful and evocative. I want them to thrive because the book’s themes, at its core, are so relatable that people could immerse themselves in that world, as easily as they have Insecure. And, I’d love to be the person to breathe life into these kinds of books and help them get the attention they deserve.

 

Amber Oliver is an Assistant Editor at Harper, Harper Perennial, and Amistad imprints at HarperCollins Publishers. She is a native New Yorker, born and raised in the Bronx, and is a graduate of The City College of New York, with a Bachelors in English and concentration in creative writing. She was a Women’s Media Group Fellow of 2015 and is currently a mentor in the Representation Matters Mentorship Program and Find Spark. She enjoys art, music, fashion, activism, dancing, traveling, writing, and of course, reading.

4 comments to Why I Want The Next Insecure–for the Literary World

  • Do you tkae submissions directly, or should a writer have already obtained an agent?

  • Hi Amber. I think the same way! I am a huge fan of Insecure and I wanted to create a dramatic fantasy world with my own life as a template. So for me, diversity goes beyond race. It includes sexual orientation and beliefs. I conceived this magical world with a set of diverse characters with very human weaknesses despite all of their power. My research as an anthropologist opened me to the fact that magic is just as diverse as people. Be it Wicca, Voodoo, or Druidism, people practice different things. I have found that diversity is also a subjective matter and agents and editors look for their ideas of what diversity is to them. If there is “too much” diversity it is a turn off. But that is the way of this world. Diversity is in abundance! And I make no apologies about my morally corrupt gay alchemist and flirtatious transgender witch. LOL

  • Love. This. Post. How about a book about a white girl who travels to the most remote jungles of Mexico, alone, woefully unprepared, and with a head full of misperceptions and unconscious bias? With a mix of self-deprecating humor, personal exploration and deep research, she (me) explores Chiapas, the palatial Mayan ruins of Palenque, and the Zapatista Movement, confronting her own unconscious prejudices with every step she takes, encouraging us all to do the same. Ignorant about the processes, I self-published and I’ve gotten great reviews, but I know with a talented editor, I could take this book from good to great and get a much needed message out in the platform of a funny, exciting read.

  • Emanuel Kane

    I have 3 manuscripts (multicultural romance). How do I submit to you?