At Around the World in 80 Books, we are constantly championing the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. In this installment of why this is important, we take a look at why Young Adult literature is embracing diversity, while Adult literature is woefully slow in its acceptance.
We know that editors, marketers, and other industry professionals take part in the reasoning behind acquiring and publicizing diversity, but why do I see so much diverse literature coming through Young Adult? Better audience reach? Acceptance of diversity in literature and the lives of young readers? Willingness to change? All could be said for the young adult spectrum of literature. And it would be worthwhile to pay attention.
Even before the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign came about, authors were already calling for diversity. In a 2011 article in The Atlantic, young adult authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon decided to launch Diversity in YA, a website dedicated to highlighting diversity: “Lo said her goal with the site was less to convince authors to write differently and more to highlight the diversity that was already present in YA: characters of a broad mix of races, ethnicities, sexualities, physical abilities, and more.”
In 2013, School Library Journal posted an article titled “Embracing Diversity in YA Lit.” Specifically, Alvina Ling, the Children’s Book Council Diversity Committee Chair and Founder brought up the importance of diversity in kid lit. “It helps foster acceptance and understanding of different people. These titles are for that child who is not seeing himself in the books he’s reading or a child from a different culture to have compassion towards people who are not like him.” The article further highlights how there needs to be diversity in YA Sci-fi/Fantasy.
Turning our attention to lack of diversity acceptance on the adult fiction side of the discussion, I recently read a blog post from Suleikha Snyder on her time at Romance Writers Association (RWA) and the RITA Awards. She described the conference as two very separate events, one where there was networking and camaraderie, and another where anytime someone mentioned diversity, they were met with sighs and side-eye glances. (Read the comments at your own risk!) Diversity in romance is not a trend. The treatment of diverse authors (POC or LGBQT, etc.) in this environment was appalling. They are advocating for the same representation in literature that white people are so accustomed to. This is not a hard concept to understand and implement at the publishing level. An author shouldn’t have to self-publish their story because their characters are a different skin color or orientation than the “norm.” What is the norm anyway? Our lives are constantly filled with diverse people and if publishers stopped and thought for one moment how representation could mean so much for a diverse reader, it would make all the difference in the world.
My favorite quote from Ms. Snyder’s post: “What this boils down to is that the industry is not changing fast enough, and that is why we can’t be quiet and just go away.” This rings true for me and has prompted this post. YA literature is embracing change. Publishing is notoriously slow on the uptake of any change, “legacy industry” and all that jazz, but YA is taking risks. Adult literature should be following in their footsteps. They may be surprised to find out how many readers they could reach.
Rebekah Witherspoon, founder of WOC in Romance, tweeted her impressions of the conference. And her re-cap is here. What was surprising to me was a publisher’s blatant disregard for diverse books and authors.
Though, not all publishers are shying away from diversity, there are some that continue to publish diverse writers, as Rebekah outlined in her re-cap.
What I’ve come to understand from the diversity discussion is this: romance (Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and other genres, as well) is suffering from lack of diversity. And from Ms. Snyder’s testimony at RWA we can see how negatively publishers react to this sort of change. Embracing diversity hurts no-one, but ignoring it as a fad hurts all readers. In an effort to offer solutions, I humbly suggest publishers publish diversely, promote diversity, and don’t be afraid of the “mid-list.”
Check out some of these Goodreads lists on diversity for both Children’s and Adult Fiction.