While not every writer is ready to write a story from the point-of-view of a person of a different race or sexual orientation, that doesn’t mean a writer can’t do things to improve diversity in the literary world. Here are four ways writers can be a better advocate and improve their ability to write a character of a different race of sexuality than their own.
1. Do Your Homework
For many writers, it’s simply a matter of doing the research to reach a point where they can write from a different perspective. At the 2012 James River Writers Conference, I moderated a panel on “Writing Diversity.” The panelists included Lila Quintero Weaver, Malinda Lo, Camisha L. Jones and Jonathan Coleman. Moderating that panel was a fantastic experience, and my panelists were great. Malinda Lo, along with author Cindy Pon, runs a great website devoted to the issue of Diversity in YA. Their website will give you a better grasp of the problem, where things are getting better and getting worse.
2. Take the Risk
The seemingly random member of the panel was Jonathan Coleman, a white male, but his publishing credits include the book Long Way to Go: Black and White in America which focused on Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to examine the problem of racism in that community and how it reflected America’s issues as a whole. When Jonathan was asked by a member of the audience if writers will be taken seriously when writing about a kind of person they aren’t, he answered that writers will be taken seriously as long as the writing is their best work, that writers need to be willing to take risks.
3. Buy (and Read) Diverse Books
Yesterday, I discussed how most of what I’ve read in my life falls within my white, heterosexual experience. For me and other writers to broaden our ability to write beyond our individual experiences, we need to first broaden our reading experience. While I’ve taken some steps towards that in the past two years, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign made me realize I need to keep that momentum moving forward.
Tomorrow, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign calls for people to go buy some of the diverse books that are out there. My enthusiasm got the better of me, and I bought my books early. I picked up two: Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac and Fake ID by Lamar Giles. Shortly after getting Lamar’s book, I learned he’ll be speaking at this October’s James River Writers Conference, here in Richmond. Don’t neglect this part of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, because all the tweets, status updates, and Tumblr updates won’t mean anything unless people prove they’re willing to buy the books already out there that celebrate diversity.
4. Be an Advocate
Once you find a book you love, share it. That’s good advice for readers who discover any author or book they love. Nothing sells books better than word of mouth, so if you want to see more people reading diverse books, you need to promote them. Post a review on websites that sell books and share them in your social media.
Here are two authors I’d like to recommend: N.K. Jemisin and Meg Medina. I’ve got a major writer crush on N.K. Jemisin’s books, which include The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Killing Moon. Her books are some of the best epic fantasy novels I’ve read in the past decade. Meg Medina does some fantastic writing in the young adult market. Her novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass is a blast, and my daughter loved it.
So go forth and diversify your bookshelf. There’s a good chance it needs it.