Today kicks off a three-day, social media campaign to increase awareness about the lack of diversity in young adult books and literature, in general. People are being asked to take pictures of themselves holding up a sign showing the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks and the reason they believe we do need diverse books. This issue isn’t new, not by any stretch, but it’s received some much needed press within the past month.
The increased discussion prompted me to examine my reading habits. I asked myself if I could name at least five writers of a race or sexual orientation different from mine who I’ve read. While I can, it’s just barely.
Here’s a list of all the writers I’ve read who fall within that category:
- Rebekah L. Pierce, Murder on Second Street
- Malinda Lo, Adaptation & Huntress
- Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon
- Meg Medina, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
- Javier Sierra, The Secret Supper
- N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon & The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
- Anthony P. Jones, Operation: Smokeout
Bad news first: those are all the authors I could name off the top of my head and after going through my Goodreads book list. When you consider that’s out of all the books and authors I’ve ever read, that’s not an impressive percentage.
Now, the good news: I read books by five of those authors all within the past two years. Out of those five, I’ve read two books each from two of them in that same time (those authors are Malinda Lo and N.K. Jemisin). I’m a slow reader, so I don’t read that many books in a year. That’s a sign of a significant shift in my reading habits.
As a writer, my stories echo all the books I’ve read, which is why it’s important for me to read beyond my market and genre. Otherwise, I’ll have nothing new to offer my target audience as a writer. With that in mind, when you consider the limited diversity from my past reads, it’s no wonder I’m not comfortable writing beyond a white, heterosexual perspective. Changing that will require a lot of time and reading on my part.
I think it’s worth the effort, because we do need diverse books. If all we ever do is read books that reflect our own race, sexual orientation and beliefs, then we cannot find the common ground we need to communicate and work together to improve and advance our society. We’ll only be capable of having a conversation with an echo of ourselves.
Tomorrow, I’ll do another post offering my thoughts on how writers can improve diversity in books, even if they don’t believe they’re capable of writing those stories themselves.