Eris Young writes about their experience with DIVA’s Emerging Voices programme, a rare opportunity for queer arts reviewers

BY ERIS YOUNG

When I sit down with DIVA books editor Kaite Welsh for my mentoring session, she greets me warmly, compliments my fringe (sloppily hand-cut).

We do know each other – it was Kaite who emailed to tell me about the programme, to suggest I apply. I had just pitched her a review of Crimson, a queer Greenlandic novel like nothing I’d ever read before, and with the DIVA Emerging Voices programme set to launch just a month later it felt like the stars were aligning. 

When my application and review were accepted I was excited, of course, but not just because of the opportunity it would afford. I was thrilled too because I wanted to see Crimson in lights; I wanted it to succeed. Because as active and vocal as queer authors are right now, and as committed as publishers say they are to diversity, it’s still really difficult to find – and sell – reviews of queer books (especially queer trans indigenous Greenlandic stream-of-consciousness novels).

Queer reviewers, too, seem to be few and far between. When people think “critic,” they don’t picture someone who looks like me: queer, trans and under 30. In fact, the image they have in their head probably looks like about 1% of the population. 

That’s one of the reasons I was so pleased to be sitting down with Kaite instead of anyone else. Kaite Welsh is #careergoals for me – her portfolio is a piquant mix of politically engaged cultural journalism and fun, smart fiction – but more than that, I know there’s a connection there in terms of artistic priorities and professional ambition, borne of shared experience, that I doubt I’d have with an older, straight, cigar-smoking, chin-stroking cis male critic.

We chat about organisation, strategic pitching, my writing goals and how to achieve them. Read a lot, write a lot. Pitch widely and always follow up. Start a folder of articles and essays you wish you’d written, and reverse-engineer them until you know how and why they work so well. Write what you want to write about (I breathe a sigh of relief when Kaite tells me I don’t need to learn about bitcoin or SEO to be a Legitimate Journalist) and, most of all, don’t write for no money. Kaite also tells me to be ambitious: shoot for the stars. Why not pitch to Slate? Jacobin? The New Yorker? I shouldn’t think of these publications as “aspirational,” or I’ll never write for them at all: just pitch and see what happens! 

Already during our conversation I can feel a plan beginning to form in my mind. Whereas before our meeting I felt like I was in a professional fog, with no plan of what to write about, where to pitch, how to build my platform and portfolio, just speaking to Kaite, talking over some of my hopes and frustrations with someone who I know believes in me, I begin to see the way forward. 

During my mentorship session I had the same feeling I got reading editor Carrie Lyell’s Mediawatch article in the January 2019 issue, expressing her support for trans women: I felt like there was someone fighting in my corner. When you don’t see anyone who looks like you writing for the Guardian or the LRB, it helps just to know that there is someone who sees you, who’s fighting the good fight, and is willing to offer you a hand up.

Our next Emerging Voices review will appear in the April 2019 issue.

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