Hi everyone! I’m honoured to have Renae of Respiring Thoughts here today for a chat with me! I invited her to participate because all August long, she vowed to read only books written by people of colour. (You can see her original post here). Her project was great to hear about and it really inspired me. When I came up with my idea for a diversity month, I knew I had to ask Renae to discuss her experience with me. She gladly accepted my offer and we sat down and had a chat (through Twitter DM)!
Before we start, here’s some more info about Renae:
Renae is a book reviewer at Respiring Thoughts. She loves dogs, Mexican food, mountains, and Shakespearean humor. She’s a first-generation American living in small-town Colorado, and she studies English Literature and Spanish Communication in the Midwest. For fun, Renae likes to build blanket forts and host one-woman dance parties. Connect with Renae on her blog, Respiring Thoughts, or tweet her @respire_think.
Now, on with the chat!
Chat with Renae (of Respiring Thoughts) about reading diverse books, blogging and other random topics:
Shelly: First, I’d like to thank you for joining me in this chat! I’ve done tons of interviews but there’s something special I love about chats. So thanks for agreeing to join me!
Renae: You are very very welcome! I’ve never done any interview before, but it’s super fancy via Twitter. So shiny.
Shelly: Agreed! The new layout makes everything look amazing! Now I know you touched a bit on this in your original post but what exactly made you decide to read only books by authors of colour? Was there anything that inspired you?
Renae: I think for starters I’ve always been miffed, in a low-key way, how difficult it’s been to find books that reflect my story and my character, and that’s been building and building for a while. Then
#WNDB started last year and I really appreciated what they were doing, though I wasn’t “spurred on” to take action of my own. But this year (2015) that building upset kind of just took over and then it CLICKED: why am I not putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak? If I want to see characters and authors who share my ethnic identity in publishing, shouldn’t I read the books and authors that already exist and do my best to support them?
So, long story short, I realized that I can’t complain about a problem unless I’m not doing something to actively help. And for me, helping is showing that there is a “market” for racial diversity in fiction.
Shelly: I totally understand that. I saw the same trend in my own actions as well. I think it’s easier for us to say we support something rather than to take action and prove it. That’s why the
#WNDB hashtag is so important. We need it not only to show ourselves but to show the world that this movement has substance, and is not merely a “trend”.
I think what you did proved exactly that! There is definitely a market for diversity and there will always be one. Hopefully your month inspired others as well!
Renae: Absolutely! I think it’s very irksome when people classify the recent push for diversity in publishing as a “trend” or the “new big thing” because it does a lot of harm to marginalized voices who’ve, honestly, been quietly pushing for this for years before it blew up with
Or I guess not so “quietly” pushing. But it’s building momentum and I think that’s excellent.
Shelly: The hashtag is definitely great for building momentum, but I like that so many readers (including you) have taken it upon themselves to show that the movement will only keep growing, and that it isn’t merely a phase like zombies or vampires (let us not speak about Twilight!)
Renae: Hah. Twilight. *shudders*
Shelly: *shudders with you*
I know while most people admired your project, there was a blog reader who mentioned that by not reading novels by white authors, you’ll be “missing out”. I personally loved your response to the incident. Could you please describe it for all the lovely chat-readers?
Renae: Yes! So the response to my project has mostly been supportive, but there was one person who seemed genuinely confused. First, she wondered how I would even find authors of color to read since they were so rare (proving my whole point, hah). Second, she wondered if I wasn’t going to be “missing out” on books since I was “limiting” myself to only non-White authors for a month. Honestly, that whole comment really blew me because…what even?
But I pulled on my politest online persona and explained how I spent a lot of time researching authors of color prior to the beginning of my project (plus they’re really not THAT hard to find if you know where you look), and also I explained how I felt that I wasn’t “limiting” myself. For 30 days, I could give marginalized voices the chance to be in the spotlight, with no competition. It’s not like books by White authors were packing up and leaving, never to be seen again.
I’m not sure she really understood after all that, but I tried. *shrugs*
At the very least, I’m kind of happy I got to go through that, since it showed me just how important my project was, not just for myself but for other readers as well.
Shelly: While I don’t agree with her, she says that finding books written by marginalized voices is “rare”. Do you think in some way, as bloggers, we have a duty to help make those voices more acceptable to readers who might not be exposed to them?
Renae: For bloggers who do support diversity and feel strongly about it, yes; if you’re serious about seeing fiction that reflects the world we live in, then you should speak up and act. As I realized, it’s not just enough to sit around and complain, though I absolutely think there’s power in a well-worded Tweet or article as well. Attend an event or a Twitter chat! Post about why diversity matters to you! Share some recommendations! READ diverse books! You don’t necessarily have to buy books—I’m a poor college student, and I get most of my books from the library. I’m not saying you have to do something flashy or intense, but it’s always good to make a point about promoting and supporting diversity when you get the chance.
Shelly: I agree wholeheartedly! Blogging about books is such a privilege almost it’s sometimes hard to remember that most people don’t come across as many books as we do in a given month let-alone a year. I agree with you on that note that we need to work harder to promote diversity. I’m also a student and don’t have the budget to buy every single book I’d love to but instead, for example, I can send out a tweet about the book so hopefully other readers will get a chance to discover it!
Renae: For sure! I know that if I see someone pitch a book on Twitter that sounds good, I’ll go look it up. Awareness in general is important.
Shelly: I think social media in general is a wonderful tool and I’m happy to see that it’s sometimes being used for good, especially to promote books that need more awareness. In general, is there anything you learned from your month of only reading books written by people of colour?
Renae: I learned a lot just by reading the books. I read about a sweatshop in Chinatown, Hispanic immigrants adjusting to life in the US, a fantasy world inspired by Ancient Egypt, and a classically-trained Indian dancer—and so much more. The variety of narratives I experienced was amazing and probably my favorite part of the whole experience. If you’ve ever felt like fiction gets too repetitive or dull, I seriously suggest seeking out diverse fiction. It will make a huge difference, and even if you don’t love the book, you’ve still exposed yourself to a new and unique story that you maybe would have missed otherwise.
Shelly: That’s definitely my favourite part of diverse fiction! Assuming it’s done accurately, it allows readers to understand a completely different reality than their own. I love reading from the point of view’s of others to see new experiences and learn more about the world, even if it is fictitious!
Renae: Yes! I mean, I didn’t have the greatest reading month during my project if you just look at my average rating. But what I took away from reading books written by authors from so many different ethnicities and races is worth more to me than just having high ratings.
Shelly: I know what you mean! I’ve read plenty of books where I disliked a certain part of the novel or the romance, for instance, but that doesn’t invalidate what I learned reading the novel.
Shelly: Aww thank you! I’ve never gotten a “this” comment before! ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!
Renae: Whooo! I think it’s an important milestone in any online person’s career. Though now that we mention it, I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten one either. PUTTING IT ON THE AGENDA.
Shelly: Of course! “Top Ten Things To Do to Be Successful Online and In Life: A Guide to Getting One Word Twitter Acknowledgments, a book by Shelly”
Renae: Item 1: Start a meme.
Item 2: Eat a whole carton of ice cream in one sitting.