I haven’t said much publicly about the #weneeddiversebooks campaign but I took a moment last week to write a piece for The Huffington Post and it just went up this afternoon. Here’s a taste:
The recent #weneeddiversebooks social media campaign has raised awareness of the need for greater diversity in children’s literature, and I am happy to see this important issue garner the attention it deserves. Activism around diversity isn’t new, of course, but repeated calls for change over the past few decades have largely fallen on deaf ears. Those of us who have been advocating for greater diversity and equity in children’s publishing are watching to see what will happen next. Will the overwhelmingly white publishing industry simply add a few more authors of color and call it a day? Will those who are new to the struggle be satisfied with superficial rather than structural change?
Missing from the diversity conversation is any mention of equity–equal opportunities for all. Right now the vast majority of children’s books are written by white authors. If more of those white authors start to write about people of color (and/or LGBT people, people with disabilities, people from different socio-economic classes), that will increase diversity; more books for young readers will begin to reflect the range of different people in our society. But such a move would do nothing to ensure equity within the industry. Equity insists that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and right now less than 5% of the books published annually in the US are written by African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.
I’ve been discussing the barriers faced by writers of color and my colleagues had several ideas, including a collective of indie authors. I think the big review outlets—Kirkus, School Library Journal, Horn Book—ought to devote a column to indie authors so that they can shine a spotlight on the very best self-published books instead of using blanket policies to shut out those truly talented writers who have already been turned away by publishers. But if members of the children’s literature community refuse to change and instead opt to wait on the publishers themselves to do better, nothing will ever change…