With all the things happening in the bookish world in regards to diversity, I thought it would make a great Q&A style chat with my coblogger Shelly. There are a lot of ugly things out there about diversity in books (cough horrible youtube videos cough) but there is also a ton of good (*cough #OwnYourOwn hashtag). And there are already a ton of blog post out there with varying opinions on the subject! That’s why I wanted to do a Q&A style chat with Shelly. Shelly reads more diverse books in a month than I have read in a year! And I thought that dynamic would help keep the chat balanced! So without further ado….our chat!
Diversity Stop & Chat
Q1. What EXACTLY do we mean by “diversity” in this post?
O: I’m going with a broad definition of diversity here. I’m talking about POC (authors AND characters), people with disabilities, and LGBTQIA. And thanks to Shelly I’m going to add religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity because I’m an idiot and was so not broad enough..
S: I tend to go with the We Need Diverse Books definition, as it feels the most complete and comprehensive (and it acknowledges that this definition can include more).
“We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.”
Q2. What are a few diverse books you read as a kid (under 12)?
O: Obviously there is a *bit* of an age difference between Shelly and I so this is going to date me quite a bit. That said, I had a difficult time thinking of anything I read as a kid that was what we would consider diverse today. The only thing that I could remember was a book of poems by Langston Hughes. And if I remember correctly, I only had the opportunity to read the book because it was on a short list of “acceptable” reads for a black history project.
S: I literally have no recollection of books I’ve read past three years ago BUT a book that has stuck with me (not as a child, but like 3 years ago so this doesn’t count oops I’m terrible at questions) is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe which I had no idea was LGBT but it was just phenomenal and I really liked it. It was the first book I read in a single sitting, and it definitely stuck with me for the longest time.
S:Sorta related: pretty sure I’m the only Jewish person who hasn’t read Anne Frank’s diary when it seems like every single 12 year old I know is reading it.
O:OH! Shelly just reminded me that I read Anne Frank’s diary! HOW DID I FORGET!? I cried in class reading it!…..wait. I was 12 so that doesn’t count.
S:Basically we’re both terrible at questions. Except Octavia. Wait so it’s just me.
O:No…I’m pretty terrible too.
S:So basically it’s just me because I don’t accept that premise. QUESTION 3 TIME PLEASE!
Q3. What do you really think the reason for the lack of diversity in reading is?
O: I’m going to say the thing that no one is supposed to say. I think it’s because people believe diversity doesn’t sell well, and we all know books are published with the intention to make lots of money. Not only that but the “outrage” you hear of the lack of diversity typically comes from the very people those books would reflect and those voices aren’t as powerful, prominent, or influential as their white counterparts.
S: I agree with Octavia, and I think that publishing needs to work to overcome that misconception. I also think that sometimes people fear that having diverse authors included and published more may mean less white authors are published. As many people have pointed out, diversity aims to have everyone included not excluding anyone.
O:Girl say what!? There are people who honestly believe that by adding one author we have to take away another?! WHAT IS THIS LOGIC AND WHY DOES IT EXIST!?
S:AS IF I KNOW! I mean I’ve never seen it exactly phrased this openly but like… we see all the posts about “censorship” and “no one can tell me what to write!!” I think this also comes from the misconception that diversity is a “trend” and that publishers and agents are jumping on a bandwagon. Diversity is not a trend, it’s the reflection of the world we live in and people need to accept that.
O:PREACH SHELLY! PREACH!
Q4: As, readers, what can we do to help increase the number of diverse books on the shelves?
O: Buy diverse books and support diverse authors when/if they are able to tour.
S: buy diverse books. When I can’t afford the books (books are expensive!), I always request that my local library purchase them. I usually try to buy ownvoices books and I like to do some snooping to make the books I’m purchasing aren’t problematic.
O:This sounds so easy but! It’s hard to support what isn’t there right? Support what you can as often as you can and hopefully the rest will QUICKLY follow.
S: yeah I feel you. I think that’s why I’ve been buying/reviewing more smaller press and self-published books because I can find more books that way. ALSO, I think we can also work to support some writers who are struggling with writing their own stories. The wonderful Kaye created the #OwnYourOwn hashtag to motivate ownvoices writers through their writing journey. If that fits your current writing, I highly recommend you check it out.
O:And again Shelly has blown me away with her knowledge. Shelly please visualize a bow down Beyoncè-ish gif ok?
S: *bows down in a Beyoncé mode but fails terribly because Beyoncé is too awesome and impossible to imitate*
O:And with Q5 I want to switch to what we, AS READERS, believe authors MAY do to help! So!
Q5. How do we expect an author to balance the line between cultural appropriation and complete disregard for diverse books?
O: I don’t know to be perfectly honest. On the one hand I would LOVE to have A grow up surrounded by books that embrace black culture, but I’d be beyond livid if someone who had not and will not live that life, wrote it. But on the flip side, I’d like to see SOME effort to include at least diverse characters in books. Not all the time because that would be like a marketing trick that’s just doing it to have the word “DIVERSE” next to it on a shelf. But in a story where it genuinely fits and is appropriate.
S: I feel you, that’s such a tricky balance. I think research is key. Getting more than one person to do a sensitivity read (people from the same group can disagree, not everyone will see something the exact same way) also goes a long way. Listen to the diversity discussions on twitter. Read every thread/thought you see shared. Listen first and don’t center yourself in conversations that don’t involve you. If the novel doesn’t have diverse main characters, I do question when the novel takes place in a diverse city like New York and only has white cis hetero side characters. I mean the least anyone could do is make the side characters realistic to the world around them.
O:I do want to sidebar and say IT IS OK TO WRITE A STORY THAT YOU HAVE LIVED. I don’t want anyone to think that a story featuring an all white cast is something to shame or shun. If that is the story that’s inside of you by all means, write that story. But don’t shy away from diversity because you feel threatened by it.
O:Ok! Shelly and I have asked, and answered our questions on this topic but we’d love to get your thoughts as fellow readers. We do ask that any negative comments be kept to yourself lest you be blocked from RSR. We want to keep this discussion open to everyone but in order to do that we have to keep this a safe place (Shelly’s note: safe spaces are important to us and we want this to be a place of healthy but supportive discussion. Please be courteous in the comments to one another). So leave your thoughts and recs below and don’t forget to do what you can, when you can, to support diverse books.