We Need Diverse Voices recently posted a Tweet calling for the end of the #OwnVoices hashtag and released a statement that they will no longer be using the term at their organization. Where once it was a coveted hashtag that marginalized creators embraced, it’s recently come under scrutiny. In order to understand why its use is being contested we can look at the history of the hashtag and its use—by both writers and publishing professionals.
In 2015, author Corinne Duyvis created the hashtag as a shorthand tool on a Twitter thread calling for recommendations of diverse books written by people who shared that identity. During the years to follow, writers of all marginalized groups have used the term widely, though this was never its intention.
One of the issues that has recently risen has to do with the vagueness of the hashtag and how it’s been used by publishers despite the works associated with the term missing #OwnVoices themes.
In an episode of the podcast Deadline City, #OwnVoices Observatory, hosts Zoraida Cordova and Dhonielle Clayton bring up how the vagueness of #OwnVoices can be problematic. During the episode Zoraida Cordova, the well-known Latinx author of The Brooklyn Bruja’s trilogy, points out that she’s appeared on queer lists because her work has been labeled #OwnVoices and features a queer MC. The only thing is, she doesn’t share that marginalization. She is Latinx, and so is her MC.
Can you really call a manuscript #OwnVoices if it has a marginalized witch as the main character? Which part are you calling #OwnVoices, the marginalization or the fact she’s a witch? Or just because the character in the manuscript shares your marginalized identity, but that identity isn’t at the forefront of the story?
Furthermore, others argue that publishing houses have been using #OwnVoices in their marketing and publicity even when writers are not ready to share (or can’t share because doing so would put their lives in danger) their marginalization with the world—causing personal hardship for writers, many of whom are LGBTQA+.
Proponents of this say that it’s better to stop being vague with the term and simply state how you are marginalized as long as you’re comfortable with it. For example, if your main character is Honduran and so are you, instead of saying your manuscript is #OwnVoices, stating that you are Honduran and so is your main character will give a more accurate depiction of the marginalization without leaving room for interpretation.
Meanwhile, many writers still continue to embrace the term #OwnVoices to describe their work, especially when it comes to pitching to agents and editors, who have taken the term as a buzz phrase. There are also some who say that the term #OwnVoices has helped bring more diverse books to libraries and catalogs, which didn’t always note an author’s identity.
So should you still call your work #OwnVoices? And should you use the hashtag during #LatinxPitch? Well, it’s still a gray area with many on either side of the argument.
If you’re thinking of using the hashtag just to show that you’re Latinx, it’s unnecessary for #LatinxPitch since the pitch event is solely for Latinx writers. Agents and editors will automatically know you are from a marginalized community. But it is something that you might be considering including in your query letter. And while many agents and editors will still jump at the chance to work with an #OwnVoices writer, just as many are also trying to shy away from the term.
For many writers #OwnVoices has been empowering and its use is second nature. Ultimately, it’s up to you, the writer, to determine whether or not you would like to use the term. Whether you think that it’s still a necessary term. Or whether you think it’s a term that has underlying issues. If there’s one thing that we all agree on, though, is that we need more books by marginalized writers who share the marginalization they’re writing about. Whether or not they want to share that they’re a part of that marginalization, that’s one hundred percent up to the writer. And whatever you choose to call your work, the important thing is to keep writing, keep pitching, keep going!