“My Story Isn’t the Only One Worth Telling”: Why Diversity Matters, Part III

This series includes some of my favorite images from the #weneeddiversebooks campaign, author/blogger posts, and my own insights (obvi).

In Part III I discuss current initiatives and what we can do to avoid the “fetishization” of diversity.

Warning: ink (or…pixels?) will be spilled.

In Part II, I wrote about the danger of distance and raised questions about empathy and censorship. Today, I’d like to talk about current initiatives to promote diverse books, and what we can do – as writers and readers.

The organization First Book has an initiative called Stories for All, which aims to buy more books featuring diverse characters. This happens through purchase orders in the tens of thousands – a larger stake for publishers, and one that represents a more sizable market than the traditional classroom order. It’s an interesting solution, because it empowers a smaller group to band together and have a considerable market impact. Read more about the initiative here.

Over at the #weneeddiversebooks campaign headquarters, you can check out the summer reading series. It provides reading pathways for YA/children’s titles – a “like this? read that!” type feature. I love that it connects readers through familiar territory, but I have to ask – are we going about this the right way?

One of my favorite posts about diversity echoes the feelings I talked about in Part I. In “Why I’m Weary Diversity Will Be Reduced to a Fad,” Jill writes

We had our fair share of vampires, zombies, and now I’m ready for faeries and urban fantasy to curtsy off stage. What does that leave to be the next big thing? Please tell me we aren’t going to reduce diversity to a new trend….We cannot fetishize race, or describe their features and personalities with stereotypical characteristics. We must treat those things like clichés because they are. Describe characters – personal ticks, sins, hearts, souls, flaws – and make race secondary.

This is where I have trouble navigating. Is it inappropriate to point out diverse books because of the elements that makes them diverse? By identifying a text as a “diverse” read (in addition to or instead of a worthwhile or engaging read), are we setting up a “diversity sells” market? Or are we continuing the conversation about diverse literature by identifying new pathways to engage unfamiliar and/or disenfranchised readers? Personally, I lean more toward the latter – but I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Have more questions, answers, or reading suggestions? Leave me a comment!.

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6 thoughts on ““My Story Isn’t the Only One Worth Telling”: Why Diversity Matters, Part III

  1. Blake says:

    So, to sum up, which would be the more valuable – a non-diverse, brilliant work of literature by a dead white male or a diverse, mediocre work of literature by a non-caucasian lesbian?
    (Always accepting, of course, that it’s perfectly possible for the brilliance and mediocrity to be switched around on a case by case basis)

    Like

    • Justice says:

      That’s a good point. I guess in my example above, I was considering literary works on par with each other, ones that I enjoyed. A bad book is a bad book…in my book.

      Like

      • Blake says:

        In my book, too 🙂 I’d also add that perhaps books are no longer the best, or most necessary, promoters of diversity. Since I started blogging in May, what I’ve most enjoyed has been the capacity it affords to connect with anyone, anywhere, online. Yesterday I was chatting to someone in Nigeria about her fiction, which I’d just read. Today I’m chatting to you about the benefits of diversity. All from a PC in England. No book is able to compete with that.

        Like

  2. DoingDewey says:

    I think it’s ok to point out books which are diverse and to praise them for being diverse books. At the same time, I think it’s important that our answer to Blake’s question above is always the better work of literature and that we not praise diverse books as good books simply because they’re diverse. I also think it’s important not to fall into the trap Jill imagines of having diverse characters who are stereotypes just because diversity is the latest fad. I think books should both portray diverse characters as just like other characters to show that diversity is normal and portray the unique challenges faced by diverse people so the rest of us can learn about them. If an author is using diverse characters as caricatures, I think it’s important to call them out on that.,

    Like

    • Justice says:

      I totally agree. I finished Eleanor & Park last week and one thing I loved about it was the main characters were part of the “other,” but it didn’t feel stereotypical or gimmicky. It worked for their individual storylines and the plot as a whole.

      Like

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