I don’t know if you have seen all the discussion about #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices either on twitter or on the interwebs. It boils down to the fact that books in general and Children’s literature and YA in particular are very dominated by white characters. The publishing industry is largely white and breaking into it as a POC in incredibly difficult. There are important and diverse stories that we are not hearing because authors can’t find a publisher. On top of that often when a POC is written in a work the author is white. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing but it is important to note that it is much easier to publish a novel with a POC main character as a white author than it is for a POC person to get a novel about a POC character published. This is significant for a whole lot of reasons and infuriating for a whole lot more.
I don’t want to talk that too much because other people have a much better understanding than I do and because frankly I am already represented. I have never had to struggle to find books that reflected my reality. Books have never disappointed me by telling me that I didn’t exist. Books have never told me that being who I was meant that I would never be happy.
There is some great stuff (like this!) out there about people needing books to be both mirrors and windows.
If you are interested in this then I recommend following:
on twitter for a much more authentic and informed discussion. This is not about me.
How it began
So why am I writing this? I ran intothis review of the book The BlossomingUniverse of Violet Diamond which really started me thinking. I went to https://mclicious.org/ which is Hannahs website (awesome) and started doing some reading. I had seen the #weneeddiversebooks hashtag and thought ,”Yeah!” but was I backing up that sentiment? I started looking at my goodreads list and found that I wasn’t reading all that many books with POC main characters and even books with POC authors. I think the ratio was something like 275:45. I am a pretty diverse reader and I am comfortable with diversity so the gap was pretty troubling. It made me examine myself and my biases. Which is never comfortable.
It was time to become more deliberate in my reading choices. I don’t know about you but my TBR list is pretty out of control. I think that I add three books to it for every book that I finish. I live in China and read almost exclusively on my kindle (aka: the best invention ever) so I do my browsing almost exclusively on Goodreads and Amazon. I get some blogs and from twitter (now that I have it). Both Goodreads and Amazon have a place where they suggest books. Unfortunately, it is bases on your reading habits and the reading habits of others who read the book you are looking at. If you are trying to get outside your reading bubble this isn’t ideal.
Importance of #ownvoices
I started looking at authors more. Before the author was just a name that I looked at so I could find them again. If a book had a POC main character I started looking to see it it had been written by a POC author. It is interesting how often that isn’t the case. I don’t insist on #ownvoices. The closest thing that I have to a literary mirror was North of Beautiful which is about about a white girl and written by a Chinese-American woman Justina Chen. Authors can use empathy and imagination to tell all kinds of stories and not just their own. But it is important to ensure that POC stories aren’t being told for them. I can research and empathize and imagine all that I want but I am never going to be a black woman, or an Asian woman, or a native woman.
I might not notice the lack of the nuance of experience while reading but I internalize them as truth. This doesn’t even touch on how damaging it is to read about someone who is supposed to reflect you only to be staring into a bizarro carnival image.
What I Found Out
I found out that I have been missing out. A whole lot of great books that I had been unconsciously avoiding. I found out that noticing what you are reading and who you are reading makes a difference. I noticed that there had been books in my TBR pile for months (sometimes years) that had POC authors and main characters but that I hadn’t gotten around to them. After I started paying attention I was much more likely to actually pick up the book and read it. It has been about a year and I have read about three times as many diverse books this year than last. It is still a work in progress but I am learning a lot.
Tomorrow I will list ten books to start with if you are looking to diversify your reading.
PS: If you are a POC author? Write your story, fight to get it published. You will have readers.