In my life, some books have helped me understand other people; others have made me feel understood. When I was growing up some of my favorite books were about wizards and others were about holocaust victims, but even more of them were about characters I closely identified with: shy girls who loved to read, were bad at sports, and/or had divorced parents. That last bit was probably the most important part to me, because it was the main way I was different from everyone else at school.
We need diverse books, because all children (all people for that matter) should have both kinds of reading experiences. Everyone should be given the opportunity to understand perspectives of people with different abilities, skin colors, religions, sexual identities and orientations, mental illnesses, and cultures. Everyone should also have a way to see themselves, their families, and their communities in the books available to them.
Sometimes I don’t feel 100% comfortable championing this cause, even though I believe in it, because I’m a cisgendered, straight, white woman who for the most part writes about characters similar to me and worlds I am familiar with. I’ve struggled with the boundaries between white washing, tokenism, and appropriation within my own writing. It is something I’m hoping to explore further when I start my MFA program.
We need diverse books, and just because I’m not sure I’m the person to write them doesn’t mean I can’t support them as a reader, consumer, and blogger. For me, the need for more diverse books doesn’t mean I can’t continue to enjoy books by/about white people, straight people, etc. It means I want to be able to enjoy and support books written by and about a diverse group of people. Excluding people that aren’t in “the majority” (which isn’t even a majority anymore, hence the quotes) means that everyone is missing out on some great stories.
One of my favorite things about writing books is that while it is obviously in some ways a very competitive business, in other ways it isn’t. It isn’t a sports team where kids get cut. Whenever an author is successful it is in general good for all other authors. For example, J.K. Rowling’s success with Harry Potter didn’t take away readers from other children’s books, it made publishers decide to publish more and more books for children. I think the industry can make room for all kinds of authors and stories.
There are lots of other people who can speak to this issue better than I can. I suggest you check out a few of them on the We Need Diverse Books Campaign tumblr and join the Twitter chat today at 2pm (EST) by using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks
Please leave any recommendations of diverse books in the comments section. I recently finished To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han and Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones, and both have completely knocked my socks off. Also, feel free to share any thoughts you have on the campaign and other issues with diversity in literature.