Journalist Teresa Wiltz, author of The Real America, chats with Shebooks about the challenges she’s faced as a woman of color in the newsroom and beyond.
What prompted you to write The Real America?
I’ve been obsessed with the topic ever since I was in elementary school and my playmates kept asking me, “What’s your nationality?”
How do you think your gender/racial/ethnic/religious identity has influenced your writing?
They’re inseparable. How I’m perceived in the world as a woman of color impacts the way I am treated and, as a result, the experiences that I’ve had.
Have you ever experienced sexism as a woman writer? How so?
Certainly in the newsroom. There seems to be this unconscious thinking that men are there to think (and write about) deep thoughts, while women are there to do the lighter stuff. It’s not everyone, and it’s often unconscious, but it’s there.
When did you first decide you were a writer?
When I was in the sixth grade and we had to write weekly compositions for English class. My baby sister was a toddler then and she was quite the handful. So I started writing fiction about her—short stories where I would send her to the moon for NASA. I got A+++s.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in your writing?
Writing about myself, rather than reporting about the lives of other people. That’s terrifying.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer who is just starting out?
Read everything. Write all the time. (Old school newspaper training is invaluable for that.) Learn the rules of grammar and style. Know them cold before you start getting all experimental with the written word.
Have you ever shied away from writing something because someone you know might read it?
Yes. But I’m working on that.