I rounded up and talked about some of the pieces written recently on diversity and representation in the kid lit world and asked why those who have huge megaphones in the community aren’t helping to amplify those voices.
Within the last few weeks, the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and CNN have all published articles examining the lack of diversity in children’s and young adult literature — and next month, School Library Journal plans to publish an entire issue devoted to diversity. While all this mainstream interest in diversity is to be applauded for bringing more people into the ongoing conversation about diversity, they still largely fail to tackle the problem of how we can change the status quo.
We at Diversity in YA obviously don’t have all the answers, and we aren’t the first people to talk about these issues. This conversation has been going on for decades. What we do have are ideas for how you can change the status quo right now. If you’re an ordinary reader, you don’t have to wait to show your support for books that show the world as it is. Here are five ways you can help make positive change right now:
1. Look for diversity.
Make a conscious effort to seek out books to read that feature characters of color, LGBT characters, and/or disabled characters. They may not be front-and-center at your local Barnes & Noble; you may have to look around a bit or go online to find them.
2. Support diversity.
Support the diverse books that are published today by buying them, by checking them out at your library, or by requesting that your library buy them.
3. Recommend diversity.
If you use Goodreads, Facebook, social media, or have a blog, talk up the books you love that happen to have diverse characters. Tell your friends! Word of mouth is still key in bringing awareness to books. And remember: You don’t need to recommend them solely for their diversity — they’re great books to enjoy, plain and simple.
4. Talk up diversity.
When discussions around diversity in literature occur online, join in the conversation if you can to express that you do want more diverse books to read and that the issue is important to you.
5. Don’t give up.
There will always be people who dismiss “diversity” as meaningless. They are the reason we must keep fighting for representation. We’re all in this together.
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Want a list of diverse YA books you can get started reading right now? Here are a dozen YA books of all kinds (contemporary, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery — something for everyone!) that happen to have characters of color, LGBT characters, and/or disabled characters.
Want even more book lists? Here’s a link to all of our book lists.
I got a message to make a phone call to Publishers Weekly this afternoon, following a strong response to the all-male, all-white panel for BookCon, which is ReedPop’s consumer-side show as part of Book Expo America. Here’s the piece.
I’m pleased with the fact there’s a piece about the backlash.
My one wish is that someone who wasn’t a white lady (me) were the one being heard. I wish, too, I hadn’t been the one female quoted in the piece. But that’s here and there, and I think if you want more context for why this is a concern of mine, help yourself to Sarah McCarry’s important string of tweets about privilege and publishing that came at the same time as yesterday’s backlash.
In short, I am not saying anything anyone else hasn’t been saying forever. I am not saying anything a person of color hasn’t been saying forever. But I have far less at stake if I keep pushing at it. I can handle being called a bitch and a feminist and misandrist and whatever other creative names people who disagree with my message can come up with.
A series of anonymous asks popped up today in aprihop's inbox today, as well as in summerscourtney's. The asks can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I recommend reading them all and reading the follow-ups. Also read this post.
In short: when we speak up for women and poc having representation, we’re accused of being man-haters and throwing men under the bus.
Far from it.
When we call out privilege for what it is — all men on a conference panel, men being the dominant force in an industry, men having power and prestige a la the New York Times Bestsellers list, better publicity and marketing, even the label of being “better” storytellers, per one of the asks — we are doing no such thing. We’re instead looking at the system and pointing out the flaws.
Those men are not the flaws. And we need to stop apologizing for them or on their behalf. Of course it’s not their fault.
It’s the fault of a far bigger, more pervasive system. It is only by examining it and asking questions and pointing out homogeny and sameness that we make any inroads. And we have to also do our part to step back and examine our own part in the system.
People who anon ask are cowards in these situations. People who anon comment are no better.
People who won’t risk themselves when they have the opportunity to advocate for those who aren’t as privileged as they are are also part of the problem. To which end, I point out how much respect I have for Rick Riordan and his tweet regarding the BookCon panel he’s a part of. Support men AND women. Support white people AND non-white people.
When you support one group of people, it is in not denigrating another group of people. Instead, it’s doing your part to raise everyone up.
I don’t need to delve deeper. But I’ll post a few relevant things.
- A Censored History of Ladies in YA Fiction (my post)
- Kate Messner’s Owning Our Words
- Megan Frazer’s Speaking Up, Finding Fish
- When We Talk About Girl Problems (my post)
- The Reductive Approach to YA Fiction (my post)
- Diversity, The Zero Sum Argument, and Chicken Wings by Justina Ireland
- Race and Diversity in the 2013 YA Bestsellers
Got more suggestions for necessary reading related to gender, diversity, publishing, and the YA world? Lay it on me and let’s build a massive resource here.
caring is not trying, trying is not succeeding by Sarah Hannah Gómez
Why Being a POC Author Sucks Sometimes by Ellen Oh
Mad Words Turn To Positive Action at Rich in Color
The danger of a single story, Chimamanda Adichie
Looks like a post of mine is making the rounds outside the usual channels and is starting to be misconstrued, so I just wanted to let any new visitors know that I am 1) very vocally feminist and 2) the post was 100% sarcastic and in response to some stuff from earlier today, which you can find back a little ways.
About all that “books by men are more successfull” stuff that’s coming up on my dash… I want to share a few thoughts. (If I write something wrong, I’m really sorry, but I think the thought behind this post is valid nontheless.)
So. I work in publishing (in YA publishing) in Brazil, and have been in the market for almost 8 years now. I work exclusively with YA. I buy YA, I study YA. I’m telling you this because I want you to know I’m not taking this off my ass. I see this happening A LOT. Not once, not twice. A LOT.
Let’s start with something very basic. Even in the publishing industry, notoriously rich in women, the top jobs are still mostly occupied by men. I’m talking CEOs, I’m talking heads of departments from marketing to design to comercial etc etc etc. So, there’s a good book. A good book written by a male author, with a male protagonist. Even if the editorial department boss likes it because of its intrinsec qualities, those other bosses are most likely NOT (I repeat, because I know most people won’t believe it), they are NOT going to read the book before deciding if it will get marketing money, if they are gonna print 3000 or 3000000 copies of the book. They will decide those things based on the “sales pitch” done by the editorial department and on their “instinct”.
I’m not saying those people have bad gut feelings, or that they will purposely put down books by women, or by people or color, or by lgbta+authors. What I’m saying is that most bosses at those crucial departments are white, cis, heterosexual males. And they think with that in mind. So they see a book by a woman of color (and/or with a girl of color as a protagonist) and think: “this will not appeal to a large audience; that will only appeal to black girls.” On the other hand, when they see a book by a white male (and/or with a white male protagonist), they think: “this has a universal appeal. Girls and boys will read it. It will reach a lot of readers.”
That’s (part of) the reason books by white male authors (or with white male main characters) usually receive more marketing money. Why they get more reviews in newspapers. Why they get six kinds of cover arts in a small period of time. Because we live in a world that considers the white heterossexual male the default and we buy books published by an industry that is mostly run by white hetero men.
It does not mean those books aren’t good. They are, most of the time. But it does mean those books start their lives with much more auspicious prospects.
This is such an important piece of the puzzle, and a big part of why we TALK a lot ~diversity~, but seeing real action is a whole other ballgame. When the people involved at decision-making levels are mainly representative of a certain type of person, their filters skew their view. No one is completely immune to this. We HAVE to have other viewpoints present everywhere.