Since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Twitter and Tumblr campaign began a few days ago, the internet has been abuzz with literature-lovers talking about why we need diversity in books, especially young adult books.
Haven’t heard about this campaign? Well, here’s the lowdown.
Basically, the idea is to get people online talking about why we should be pushing for more diverse books for young adults (and in general) by posting pictures of themselves with signs that say why we need diversity in our books. And there were a lot of answers.
Many of the responses were about finding someone in literature who young readers can relate to (when many young readers don’t find books about people who are their own race, sexual orientation or have the disabilities they have). Other answers were that reading about people who are different from you is just as important as reading about people who are like you.
I think these responses get right to the point–books are about the human experience, which is inherently diverse–and also unifying. By only allowing certain types of peoples’ stories to be told, it messes up that unifying quality of literature. It’s saying these peoples’ stories are the human experience, and leaves a gap where other stories should be.
I also discussed this campaign with Talia Adry, who worked at Barnes and Noble for 10 years and now is working at a publishing house. Here’s her take on the campaign (which I just showed her before this interview) and the nature of YA literature and diversity:
Talia makes a really good point that because the YA genre is new, and has a different set of authors who tend to be primarily American so less cultural diversity tends to show through. But young readers are diverse, so their books should be as well.
While most people agree that more diversity in YA (and all) literature is important, it’s difficult to figure out exactly how to get there. Should white authors write about people of color? Can they accurately represent someone from a different culture? Does anyone want them to?
Should more diverse authors be encouraged to write more? Or are there plenty of diverse authors, but is their work is marginalized by the advertizing of companies, education pushing of the hetero-normative canon, and an obedient consumer demand?
It’s difficult to pinpoint an answer to these questions, because the answer is different depending who you ask–and it may be that the answer is some combination of these issues.
So what can people do from here?
I think it’s important to keep the conversation going. Part of the problem with underrepresented groups is that it’s sometimes people don’t even notice they’re missing because people aren’t talking about it. It needs to be asked for.
And I think this pretty much sums it up (especially the conclusion paragraph). I sort of half-heartedly ended my Twitter conversation above with the idea that if we keep talking about diversity and hope people notice, change will happen. But Léonicka is right–we can’t just sit around and talk and hope for change. We have to actively be asking for literature that is diverse in all sorts of ways. And we need to encourage people to write all sorts of diverse stories, and we need to read them and share them.
By reading and supporting the books we want to exist, I think we can help create the market that makes those books exist.