To celebrate today’s release of her debut novel, Little Black Bird, Anna Kirchner has written an article about her feelings on the lack of Slavic, and in particular, Polish characters in fiction, and why it is so very important for there to be more representation for queer Polish people in the book world.
Check out the article below, we hope you will enjoy it.
Invisibility In Little Black Bird
By Anna Kirchner
When I was starting to write, in Polish, a very early attempt at what would become Little Black Bird, I just wanted to see my home-town on-page. When I started again, in English, two years after I had moved out of Poland, I just wanted to get one person to read it, just one stranger, and for them to see that Eastern Europeans are people, too. Not just a cleaner, not an object, but a real person with thoughts and feelings, and passions, and interests. A hero worthy of having adventures. And then, slowly, it also became a tale of questioning and asexuality.
Apparently, Little Black Bird is a result of my frustrations at never seeing certain characters or places on-page. On Bookstagram we spend so much time discussing the power of representation, of seeing someone like you in books. Now that I think about it, so many aspects of Little Black Bird deal with something that’s invisible or rarely spoken about. You don’t get books set in Eastern Europe. You don’t get Eastern European characters, either, unless they are villains or the comic relief. You don’t get Polish queer books. You don’t get questioning characters and there are so few characters on the aro/ace-spectrum. It’s very recent that anyone talks about Slavic mythology at all and I can’t think of a single Slavic book in English that has been written by an author from the region, not an American.
Why is it so important for me to have my queer Slavic sorcerers and, frankly, any queer Poles, and to show them off to the world? Because queerness is still seen as a sort of Western privilege. It is so wrong and untrue on so many levels and I don’t have space to unpack it here, but the bottom line is that there are and have always been queer people everywhere around the world.
Yes, including Poland.
If the horrifying things going on there right now are any clue, it’s obvious that this surprises both Poles and everyone else. Part of the problem is that Poland is always presented as this super-homogenous nation and I wanted to challenge that. The most common rhetoric that I hear is that queer people are “a foreign import from the West,” and you can’t possibly be both queer and Polish, and if you are, please just move abroad where you will be welcomed with open hands and just never ever admit that you’re Polish. Which feeds into another dangerous stereotype of suspecting every Eastern European of being a queerphobe. It’s a vicious circle, but one of the ways to stop it is through representation. We need to see queer people outside of the US/UK context. And, right now, we really need to see queer people in Poland.
Even within the queer community itself, there is a sort of hierarchy of who gets the most representation. While we have countless stories of white, gay cis-males and no one has to follow coming out as gay with a definition of what that means, there are plenty of queer identities that don’t get as much recognition.
I’ve written a whole other article about queer representation in Little Black Bird (which you can read at B Proud PR’s blog, here) so I’ll just leave you with some question marks:
When have you ever read a book about a character who questions their identity and doesn’t figure it out by the end?
How many times have you read about characters on the aro/ace-spectrum?
Or, let’s try less obscure: when was the last time you read about a young lesbian in a position of power and authority? (I actually expect recommendations, please hit me up!)
And then there are the Slavic influences.
The world-building in Little Black Bird is equal parts fact and fiction. Or fiction deeply grounded in my local folklore, but also more generally in Polish and Slavic mythology. When I was starting Little Black Bird, it was a nightmare—I couldn’t find any sources at all (well, sources existed: in Russian. Which I don’t read or speak). There were some obscure websites, a few academic texts, but that was pretty much it. It was only in the past year that a boom for all things Slavic started on Polish Bookstagram and more generally in publishing. By then, I was in my final stages of edits but it helped me really bring out the Slavicness in Little Black Bird. If I was starting it now, the whole magic system would have probably looked way different. But then it would have been a very different story.
I mentioned local influences and, since it’s so important to what Little Black Bird is about and what it is to me, I want to say that it might have been the biggest struggle of them all. I had to fight for this city, to try to bring it to life, while also trying to uncover at least the littlest bits of local folklore. It’s like this tiny piece of the world doesn’t exist at all—you can’t find my home-town on any of the old maps; they end a little south to it and restart a little north to it. No one can agree if it’s part of the historical regions of Kujawy (Kuyavia) or Pomorze (Pomerania) or something else altogether. It seems to have been on borders a lot, in-between tribes, possibly on the border of the Teutonic Order, possibly on the border of whatever shape Poland or Prussia or Pomerania took at a stage in history. The history of the place has been rewritten so many times by the victors that we have so little regional folk memory left.
We have barely any regional dialect (and I’ve only seen it written as a curiosity, not actually used by anyone) and we just hang on to whatever scraps of others’ history we can find: Napoleon Bonaparte spent a night there on his way to Moscow! Master Twardowski (a legendary sorcerer who’s also mentioned in Little Black Bird) visited once, so we needed to put up a statue! The only thing that is truly ours is the devil, Węgliszek (fun fact, there used to be a pub called after him just next door to where Clavichord Café is located in Little Black Bird). Not that anyone knows anything about him apart from his name. Oh, and that he helped out Master Twardowski when he visited. Frustrating, right?
It is frustrating, but it’s also so worth it. And these little scraps I’ve found are enough to root a story. Because we deserve a story. Everyone does. And especially if you don’t think that you do—just go ahead and write it, either way.
Prove yourself and everyone else wrong.
Anna grew up in Poland and lived in a number of countries before settling in Sweden. She spends more time in imaginary worlds than in the real one. She grew up on a mixture of Polish legends and original Grimm fairy tales, which she channels into fiction. She’s a proud Hufflepuff and a dog lover. She is easiest to find on her Instagram, where she talks about books and goes into queer-feminist rants.